HC Deb 09 July 1996 vol 281 cc238-83
Mr. Deputy Speaker (Sir Geoffrey Lofthouse)

I must inform the House that Madam Speaker has selected the amendment in the name of the Prime Minister.

7.15 pm
Ms Tessa Jowell (Dulwich)

I beg to move, That this House sees helping parents combine responsibilities at work and home as fundamental both to maintaining stable family life in the UK and to the long-term success and strength of the British economy; deplores the Government's failure to support working parents which has placed extra strain on family life and created a situation where one in five households have no earners; believes Government has a responsibility to ensure employment is compatible with stable family life and can work in partnership with employers to this end; congratulates the employers, who, in the absence of Government support have introduced working practices which allow parents to strike the right balance between work and home; endorses the range of positive proposals Labour has put forward to support working parents, such as a national minimum wage, individual learning accounts and targets to achieve nursery places for every three and four year old whose parents want it, alongside the development of new partnerships to increase the availability of childcare; and looks forward to seeing a Labour Government implement these proposals and give British families and companies the support they seek. It gives me great pleasure to open the debate and to speak in support of the motion.

The balancing of responsibilities between work and family life is not an issue that is often raised on the Floor of the House—perhaps because so many right hon. and hon. Members have, sadly, concluded that a life in politics and family life are hopelessly incompatible. When a politician resigns to spend more time with his family, it is not him, or indeed his family, who make the choice: it is made for him, and usually much against his will. In this place, to spend more time with one's family is a brutal euphemism for political failure.

The House is probably the last place in the world to talk about family-friendly employment; for that reason it is probably the best place to do so. This is the home of the long-hours culture. This is a place where Whips enforce presenteeism. This is a place built on an infinity of Monday goodbyes and Thursday night or Friday morning hellos.

We cannot deny that our working habits affect our ability to understand how most people cope with the daily dilemma of managing the priorities of family and work. Nor can we deny how badly we have handled the problem in our own patterns of work. We are not yet setting an example that others should follow, but although we may signally have failed in tackling the competing priorities of work and family, this issue dominates the lives of working mothers and, to a lesser extent, fathers up and down the country. Out there, the issue is more relevant than almost any other. When mothers become workers, they do not stop being mothers preoccupied by their children. Mothers who work, even full time, are also full-time mothers.

The last labour force survey showed that 71 per cent. of women in the country now go out to work. Women make up nearly half the work force and the proportion of women earning more than their partner has risen from one in 15 to one in five over the past 10 years. This factor has had a huge impact on women's lives and on those of their families. That is why this issue, which is at the margin of concern at Westminster, is at the centre of women's concerns throughout the country. It is a revolution that the Government can observe as a detached spectator, as they have, or they can put dogma aside and stand as an ally of mothers, fathers and their families.

The number of women working full time has not increased since the 1950s, but the huge increase in women's employment has come about as a result of the increase in the number of women working part time. The scale of that is reflected by the fact that 84 per cent. of the part-time work force are women.

For most women, part-time work is their employment of choice. That is obvious, because, if the hours are right, they leave time at the beginning and the end of the day for mothers to look after their children. Part-time employees are generally more satisfied with their working hours than full-time workers because they can combine the responsibilities of caring for dependent children and, increasingly, dependent elderly relatives, with their hours of work. That underlines the importance of ensuring that part-time workers are properly protected and it is why we shall ensure a framework of minimum standards in the labour market that will support good flexibility and provide protection against unfair treatment.

Mr. Harry Greenway (Ealing, North)

The hon. Lady is gallant in giving way. She may not have finished what she intends to say about the part-time employment of women. Will she say that most of them are against it? Many women want to work part time and should not that be made clear, set out straight and true?

Ms Jowell

If the hon. Gentleman had been listening closely he would have heard me say that part-time workers are among the most satisfied with their working conditions and that for many women that is the employment of their choice. However, for many women, part-time work is synonymous with low pay and insecurity. Ruth Milkman has described the feminisation of poverty, with the women's labour market polarised between what she describes as the elite corps of professional and managerial women and the large and increasing number of low-paid part-time workers.

The women's labour market is typically concentrated in the service sector, in which there has been such rapid expansion over the past 10 years. The last labour force survey in spring 1995 showed that women formed the majority of workers in four industrial classifications: retailing and distribution; hotels and restaurants; public administration; and education and health. The incidence of women doing more than one part-time job in those sectors just to make ends meet is also increasing. Over the past 10 years there has been a 132 per cent. increase in the number of women doing more than one part-time job.

A Labour Government will introduce a national minimum wage which will put a floor on the earnings of those women and in many cases do away with their need to work excessive hours to make ends meet. The case rests on decency and fairness, but it is also about efficiency. A minimum wage is a basic right that is recognised in almost every industrialised country, including the USA and Japan, which is the world's most successful capitalist country.

The poverty pay of many at the bottom is generating spiralling family credit and benefit bills for the taxpayer and business. It was more than £2.5 billion at the last count. It is a transfer from the taxpayer to the sweatshop owner. A minimum wage will staunch this subsidy to bad employers.

Mr. Ian Bruce (South Dorset)

The hon. Lady has opened the debate extremely clearly. For further clarity, can she say whether the Labour party is still in favour of a minimum wage of half male median earnings, or does it intend to jump straight for two thirds of median earnings—which, of course, is the target after a few years of a Labour Government?

Ms Jowell

By now the hon. Gentleman should be clear about that aspect of Labour policy. If Conservative Members were not so intent on producing the kind of rubbish that they produced last week, the hon. Gentleman might have had time to study our proposals for proper consultation with employers and trade unions about setting a national minimum wage.

The Government's obsession with competition under any circumstances has some perverse and uncompetitive results. For example, for every £1 saved by the employer as a result of compulsory competitive tendering, the taxpayer has to find £2 in benefits and unrecovered tax. The further expansion of part-time work and flexible employment for women may do little to ease women's exclusion from the more responsible and rewarding work opportunities, and will do even less to challenge male absenteeism in the home. The alternative, that women should adopt male working hours and employment patterns, does not meet the aspirations of most women. For many, their experience tells them that they can have a job but not a career after having a baby. Of course the difference is that a career assumes progression, increased responsibility and long-term commitment.

Increasingly, the main family-friendly employment for women is to work part time. Of course there are enormous benefits to business from the new flexible labour market, but a heavy social cost has to be borne when "flexibility" becomes a euphemism for insecurity and exploitation. That is why we must be sceptical about claims that women's increased participation in the labour market is in itself progress.

Women want to work, but in jobs that enable them to combine earning a family income, the benefit of social contact and caring for their families. Does working for £2.50 an hour represent a new equal opportunity of which we can be proud? No doubt the Minister will be quick to proclaim the Equal Opportunities Commission finding that flexible working has increased opportunities for women and will use that as evidence of the success of the Government's policy of deregulation of the labour force. May we also assume that the Minister will take responsibility for the further negative consequences of flexible working that emerged from the same survey?

Britain's long hours culture is having a destructive effect on the career development of women and on family life. The survey concluded: Even in higher status jobs the long hours culture stops women from getting promoted and in lower status jobs women have to work long hours to make ends meet. British men have the longest working hours in Europe and consequently less time to spend with their families". While the social imperative for action to support parents in getting the balance right is well established, many businesses realise that there is a strong business case for investment in employees' peace of mind.

Women will deal with the delicate balancing act in different ways, and no one prescription will apply generally. The Government's job is, first, to recognise the changes that are taking place and, secondly, to realise that the revolution in women's lives becomes a revolution for families and is not wholly a private matter. The Government who understand the nature of the changes in women's and particularly working mother's lives can help families to deal more easily with the stresses that are inevitable at a time of such rapid change.

There is ample evidence that child care determines whether women can work. It is estimated that one in three of all lone mothers are unable to work because they cannot afford child care. But the perversity of the social security system means that the biggest gulf is not between lone mothers and married mothers but between those whose partners are working and those who are not. That is the origin of the work-rich/work-poor family and it means that in one in five families there is no earner. It is born of the outdated assumption that women are necessarily economically dependent on men. That is why a Labour Government will modernise our welfare state to promote independence and employment rather than dependence and poverty.

There is a widespread need for a partnership between employees and employers which recognises the scale of the changes in the lives of men and women and the consequences for their children and which takes into account that a working mother can give of her best at work only when she is happy and feels secure about the arrangements that she has made for her children at home.

The issue for parents is not only about the equation between work and child care. Crucially, it is also about time at home with their children—or, increasingly, their elderly relatives. Getting that right is a vital part of our rebuilding stability and security as a society.

Opposition Members realise that the world has changed, and that when mothers are at work they do not stop being mothers. We do not see that world through the prism of nostalgia for a world in which women are dependent and treated only as the property of their husbands.

Governments can provide the support that parents need to negotiate this transition only by understanding the nature of the profound changes facing families in all their compositions, by realising that the possibility of a choice between work and family is no longer relevant, and that work must accommodate the needs of families, just as parents accommodate the demands of work.

British parents are now the only parents in Europe without the benefit of parental leave. As a part of the social chapter, parents across Europe are entitled to up to three months unpaid parental leave until their children are eight years old. If fathers are to do more at home as mothers do more at work, the practical possibility of parental leave is essential. That is a specific example that draws such a clear dividing line between the Opposition and the Government.

As the balance between home and work has changed so dramatically for women, so too must the balance of father's lives. As the recent survey "The 60-minute Father" revealed, fathers want to spend more time with their children and to be more instrumental in important decisions, such as choice of school, and a lack of time was identified as the most important barrier to a closer relationship with their children. As Penelope Leach—who I suspect advised most hon. Members on bringing up their children—observed on the importance of fathers bonding with their new babies, even three days off work when the baby is born can make all the difference to the relationship as the child grows up.

There is also real concern about the impact of insufficient parental time on the security and well being of children. This "parenting deficit" is felt by many parents to be just that, and there is no point in the Government standing by, bewailing the collapse of social order and refusing to take the type of practical action that ensures the security and stability of parents and families.

Many large firms realise, in the words of Christopher Tugendhat, that there is a business case for equal opportunity and that family-friendly practices may cost more in the short term, but that they mean savings in the long term. Those savings are found particularly in recruitment and retraining costs. Recruitment, for example, costs on average about 20 per cent. of annual salary.

Research—notably that by Prof. Susan Macrea—has demonstrated clearly the business benefits of family-friendly flexibility. Those benefits include continuous production without the need for overtime payments, accommodation of seasonal peaks or irregular work loads, and changing operational requirements—particularly six-day working—which can be accommodated more easily. In part-time working and in job sharing, productivity is always greater.

Opportunity 2000 cites a list of initiatives against which an employer's aspiration to be family-friendly will be judged. They include part-time working, time off to care for sick dependents—children and, increasingly, elderly relatives—job sharing, career breaks and term-time contracts. Opposition Members are pleased to congratulate the efforts of Opportunity 2000.

We look forward to hearing from the Minister about the action that she intends to take to ensure that Departments and next steps agencies—which are supposed to be members of Opportunity 2000—take their membership seriously and develop flexible working policies in practice. They have so far dramatically failed to do so. The Minister's record on this issue is long on platitude and short on accomplishment.

Mr. Harry Greenway

Will the hon. Lady give way?

Ms Jowell

I have very little time for this speech, as I am sure the hon. Gentleman will understand. I shall finish this point first.

For many women, the transition to motherhood spells the end of their career aspirations. Too many women consider that as an inevitable choice, but Opposition Members do not. That is why, among the specific measures that we are proposing, we are proposing individual learning accounts that are specially adapted to the needs of women returning to work after a period at home or of women who would like to make a career change. That is part of our determination to improve people's employability by raising their skills.

Mr. Greenway

It is very unclear what the hon. Lady is saying. Is she saying that the Labour party, given the opportunity, would legislate for fathers to have leave from work when a child is born and each year after that until the child is eight? What is the cost of the proposals that she suggests? Is not the Labour party suggesting imposing heavy costs on industry?

Ms Jowell

Again, had the hon. Gentleman been listening carefully to what I have been saying, he would have realised that parental leave will be one of the benefits that British fathers will have when a Labour Government elected after the next general election and we sign up to the social chapter.

Ministers frequently bemoan the falling standards of general morality, as if we all lived in a moral universe of free choice. People do not live in such a world. They live in a world of tough choices and uncomfortable compromises, and when they fail, their failures are often manifested in their children. Quite frankly, it is sanctimonious hypocrisy to moan about the decline of family values and to do nothing to help families—particularly working mothers—to cope in a world of changing employment, threats and opportunities.

In the words of the excellent organisation, Parents at Work: family-friendly working is not just a women's issue, it is an economic issue, a social security issue and a family issue too. Labour Members are committed to ensuring that Government will be responsive to the real needs of working parents in the changing labour market—in the interests of employers, in the interests of those who work for them and in the interests of the millions of children who depend on them.

7.36 pm
The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Education and Employment (Mrs. Cheryl Gillan)

I beg to move, to leave out from "House" to the end of the Question and to add instead thereof: 'notes with approval the Government's successful economic and deregulation policies which have created more job opportunities and its voluntary approach to encouraging employers to adopt family-friendly policies which make it easier for individuals to combine work and family life. and agrees that this is not an area for legislation.'. As I am the first Minister from the Department for Education and Employment to speak in the House since the appalling incident at St. Luke's church, I should like to say, on behalf of my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State and the Department, that we were appalled by the incident at St. Luke's Church of England school in Blakenhall, Wolverhampton. It is particularly upsetting when such young children are involved in incidents of this type. My every sympathy goes to those involved and to their families. The courageous and professional reaction of the school's staff is to be commended. I am sure that all hon. Members will join me in wishing those who were injured a speedy recovery.

I am pleased to have the opportunity today to set out the Government's position on family-friendly policies and to outline some facts—in contrast to the rhetoric that we just heard from the hon. Member for Dulwich (Ms Jowell). However, I should like to welcome her and the hon. Member for Stockport (Ms Coffey), who I understand will reply for the Opposition at the conclusion of this debate. In the spirit of equal opportunity, I am also grateful to the Under-Secretary, my hon. Friend the Member for South-East Cambridgeshire (Mr. Paice), who will reply for the Government.

Having listened to the speech of the hon. Member for Dulwich, it seemed to me as if she was making a bid to halve her time in the House of Commons, and certainly to double the number of hon. Members, because obviously the job is too arduous for her to perform.

I shall be surprised when Opposition Members get on to family-friendly policies during the debate, which is very much a repeat of the debate that was held on International Women's Day and was called by the Government. It's easy to say 'support the family'. It is harder to find specific policies that will achieve it. Those are not my words but a direct quotation from the latest Labour party policy document. The document goes on to say: we have put forward proposals for childcare, on support for lone parent families, and on flexible working". These are not policies but proposals; in other words, the Labour party finds it impossible to produce policies on family-friendly employment and prefers to make a few suggestions.

That shameful admission contrasts with the Government's record. We have taken steps to support all families by delivering real policies that are producing real results in the labour market. One of the most fundamental changes in the UK labour market this century has been the increasing participation of women. Women now make up a larger proportion of the labour force—some 44 per cent. in 1994, compared with 37 per cent. in 1971. Some 12.3 million women are economically active. In the past 10 years, women's economic activity rate has increased from 67 per cent. to 71 per cent. The increase in the economic activity rate for women with at least one child under five was even greater—from 42 per cent. in 1985 to 52 per cent. in 1995.

In 1994, the United Kingdom had the second highest female participation rate in the European Union. There are more women in employment in the United Kingdom than in any other European Union country, except Germany. I would have thought that the Opposition would acknowledge that welcome news—it is good news for women and for families.

Mr. Denis MacShane (Rotherham)

When the Minister said that more women are in work in this country, did she mean as a percentage of the work force or the total number? That is quite important, as she may find that Sweden and Denmark have higher percentages.

Mrs. Gillan

I will clarify what I said. We have the second highest female participation rate in the European Union. One of the reasons for that high rate is the availability of part-time work in the United Kingdom. Some 45 per cent. of women in employment work part time, an option that many women with family responsibilities prefer. Of the women who work part time, only 11 per cent. do so because they cannot find a full-time job. In addition to the increase in the numbers of women in the labour market, we have falling unemployment. The United Kingdom enjoys the lowest level of unemployment among women in the EU.

Arguably the most important factor in allowing parents successfully to combine work and family life is child care. Child care matters to men and women, but it is still women who in practice have the leading responsibility of caring for children. No mother with pre-school children can return to work without arranging some form of child care. The Government have acted and intervened where we can have the most impact. The child care disregard has helped to offset child care charges against earnings when benefit entitlement is calculated. From April 1996, the disregard was increased substantially from £40 to £60.

The out-of-school child care initiative supports the Government's aim of encouraging economic growth and greater access and flexibility in the labour market. It was introduced in 1993 and provides grant support towards the start-up costs of new out-of-school provision outside school hours and during the school holidays. This Government initiative has been highly successful. Its original aim was to create up to 50,000 places in three years throughout the country, but that was exceeded by more than 40 per cent., with more than 71,000 places created by the end of March this year.

There is no point in having a programme unless one can evaluate its success. We carried out an evaluation that showed that nearly 90 per cent. of the parents were in employment, 98 per cent. of the places were still available and 95 per cent. of the parents expressed satisfaction with the child care. More important, more than 40 per cent. of parents had enjoyed an improvement in their labour market position since they began using the scheme. That shows that the policy is working. As a result of that success, the Government decided to allocate further funding for three years. Overall, that will mean investment by the Exchequer of nearly £64 million.

We have also helped parents to gain qualifications by giving training and enterprise councils discretion to assist with child care costs. Only last week, I visited an excellent training centre for hairdressers in north London. One of the trainees I met—a young mother returning to the labour market after a break—had just finished her NVQ level 2 and had already received three job offers. She told me that these opportunities were only open to her because North London TEC had provided assistance with nursery provision for her young child while she was training.

The hon. Member for Dulwich should know by now that child care is high on my agenda. As it happens, only this morning I met representatives from an Equal Opportunities Commission-led group of child care experts to discuss proposals for a national child care strategy. I have also separately invited the CBI, Parents at Work, the Trades Union Congress, the Institute of Directors and the Family Policies Studies Institute to discuss how child care policy should be developed. Child care is not an area where the Government can act alone. Governments need to develop strategies that suit the individuals concerned and those who wish to employ them. Our policy is to build on our success to ensure that we have a strategy on child care that will continue to benefit families.

I now want to examine the development of flexible working and how its progress is helping families. We are now in our fourth successive year of rising employment and falling unemployment. With the best inflation performance for almost 50 years, the lowest mortgage rates for a generation and the prospect of further economic growth, we have the right economic climate for job creation. Our policies are family-friendly in that they create the jobs that people want and attract inward investment.

The UK has fewer restrictions and controls on employment, so that we have a higher percentage of people in work than any other major EU country. It would be utter madness to start placing rigid and specific requirements on all employers and employees, as the hon. Member for Dulwich suggested. To remain competitive, firms must be able to adapt to changing economic circumstances and patterns of employment. We must not place unnecessary burdens in their way.

For example, the idea that all employers should be forced to give three months parental leave to every employee may at first sound very attractive, but such a move would be very damaging to job creation. We estimate that the parental leave directive—which other member states have just adopted under the social chapter—would cost British business some £200 million a year.

The Government favour voluntary arrangements that help people to reconcile work and family life. Flexible working patterns make it possible for employers to respond to peaks and troughs in their business and to recruit and retain staff while cutting overheads. The drive for a better qualified and more flexible work force has been spearheaded by this Government, and it will do more to help parents than any legislation.

As women become increasingly skilled and well qualified, it will be even more in employers' interests to introduce family-friendly policies to retain them. Flexible working patterns give employers the greatest flexibility in the way in which they work. Flexible working enables individuals to balance a career with other domestic commitments, whether child care or care for the elderly or infirm. A wide range of flexible working arrangements, including those that the hon. Lady outlined—part-time work, teleworking, job sharing, flexitime, annualised hours and term-time working—have been developed by this Government.

I thought that I heard the hon. Member for Dulwich criticise the civil service and the way in which we conduct our affairs, but the written reply to her question of 7 May shows that good provisions are in place at the Department for Education and Employment.

The introduction of a national minimum wage, which blindly obsesses both Labour and the Liberal Democrats, would strike at the heart of the job opportunities that would be available to women. It would put women out of work. I think that it was the right hon. Member for Kingston upon Hull, East (Mr. Prescott) who said: It would create a jobs shake out. Any silly old fool knows that"— except perhaps the silly old fools who remain in the Labour party.

We need employment practices, available to men as well as to women, that help people to share the care of their children and at the same time assist women to work. The Government consistently impress on employers the need to explore the benefits that flexible working can bring in all jobs and at all levels—for example, through publications such as "The Best of Both Worlds" and "Be Flexible". I do not know whether the hon. Member for Dulwich has had the chance to read them. Last autumn, the Government's development unit on women in science, engineering and technology, together with Opportunity 2000, published the booklet "Making the Most". I hope that the hon. Member for Dulwich has had the chance to read that, because it highlights the business benefits of family-friendly employment policies, with science and technology especially in mind. It shows that taking action with flexible employment policies to prevent the loss of highly qualified staff can have real business benefits—for instance, Rank Xerox's family-friendly programme called "Changing the Culture" has brought the company a return of some £1 million over five years through savings in recruitment, retraining and productivity.

In my constituency, Amersham International runs a scheme of career breaks, where women scientists who take time off to raise families can return to work at intervals during their breaks to update and maintain their scientific knowledge. That is an excellent initiative, which is to be commended.

Ms Jean Corston (Bristol, East)

Has the Minister not said that family-friendly employment policies would be a burden on business but in the next breath said that they had saved Rank Xerox a lot of money? Which is the truth?

Mrs. Gillan

I told the House that legislation would place a burden on business and industry. We believe in voluntary arrangements that are introduced by companies. Not all companies are large or can sustain long leaves of absence. We have calculated that legislation would put a burden of at least £200 million on businesses.

Mr. Clive Soley (Hammersmith)

Will the Minister give way?

Mrs. Gillan

No, I am answering the other intervention. I should have thought that the hon. Member for Bristol, East (Ms Corston) might welcome the fact that unemployment in her constituency is down by 7 per cent. over the year.

Mr. Soley

My hon. Friend the Member for Bristol, East (Ms Corston) was right to suggest that voluntary arrangements would cost no more or less than statutory ones. If the Minister believes that they should be made by individual companies, she must say why she thinks Amersham International cannot pursue such policies for fathers as well—unless, of course, she thinks that being a father is not important in bringing up children.

Mrs. Gillan

I think that being a father is extremely important in bringing up children, as do all Conservative Members. The hon. Member for Dulwich referred to men only about four times in her speech. We believe that businesses should arrive at voluntary arrangements because they make economic sense for them. We do not want to burden business with excess legislation.

The civil service seeks to be a good employer in this respect and has a range of family-friendly policies in place. I hope that the hon. Member for Dulwich has been able to read the equal opportunities strategy that has just been published by my Department, which recognises that all staff should have the opportunity to strike a reasonable balance between work and outside life. A wide range of flexible working patterns is available.

For example, in the Department's sex and race equality division, there are four sets of job shares at different levels of management, as well as other part-time workers. The civil service also supports child care: by October last year, there were about 55 civil service nurseries and about 120 holiday play schemes. In addition, there were 20 nursery joint ventures with other employers and 16 schemes where places are bought in private nurseries.

Finally, in contrast to the eleventh-hour visit of the hon. Member for Dulwich to women's organisations to find out what they think, I am in regular touch with them through the Women's National Commission, the Fair Play partnership programme and the follow-up work to last year's United Nations world conference on women in Beijing. I have valued those opportunities to discover what concerns women in Britain.

In the context of Fair Play, I have been invited to visit Peugeot Talbot in Coventry, which is investigating the possibility of establishing a day care centre for elderly relatives of workers in the car industry. I very much look forward to that visit.

The Government have held regular meetings with the UK's non-governmental organisations about women's issues. We also initiated, and are keen to promote, the continuation of the regional Fair Play consortiums, which are tackling an enormous range of women's issues, including family-friendly employment. Our policy of sensible deregulation of employment rights has relieved employers of unnecessary administrative and cost burdens and left them free to develop the flexible, family-friendly policies that we all want.

Mr. Don Foster (Bath)

Will the Minister give way?

Mrs. Gillan

No, I shall keep going now.

To attempt to legislate for the introduction of such policies would be neither appropriate nor practicable.

Before I finish, I should say something about the Opposition motion. We are puzzled about the difference between old Labour and new Labour. I have given some thought to that. I can see that there is some confusion among the Opposition. The minimum wage is old Labour. It is a Canute-like attitude to the economic and employment consequences of legislation. New Labour wishes to remain Canute-like but will not tell us what level of wage it envisages. Whatever the level, how it can believe that lower employment can help families is beyond my imagination.

To congratulate employers, as the motion does, seems to be new Labour. Old Labour believed that all good things came from trade union activity. However, new Labour still does not realise that employers can create jobs only if the prevailing economic and employment conditions are right. In criticising the Government's level of action, the motion fails to recognise that we have swept away unnecessary regulations and burdens in the process of creating a better economic climate.

Mr. Edward Leigh (Gainsborough and Horncastle)

My hon. Friend will recall that, when my hon. Friend the Member for South Dorset (Mr. Bruce) asked the hon. Member for Dulwich (Ms Jowell) what would be the level of the minimum wage, her only answer was that Labour would consult. My hon. Friend may remember the Marxist phrase Workers of the world, unite! Is new Labour's equivalent phrase "Workers of the world, consult!"?

Mrs. Gillan

There is nothing that I can add to my hon. Friend's brilliant intervention.

With the benefits that I have outlined, employers have been able to increase employment opportunities, both full and part-time. I join in congratulating them on taking full advantage of the opportunities that the Government have provided.

On nursery education, the motion promises nursery provision for all three and four-year-olds. Old Labour insists that that should be provided by local education authorities. However, new Labour concentrates on depriving the parents of four-year-olds of nursery vouchers starting next April and substitutes pious promises of provision for all at some distant time in the future after it may have come into office.

The Government have a proud record of putting into action policies that clearly benefit families in the workplace and the home. Labour represents new dangers with every new policy it utters: dangers to jobs with the social chapter and the minimum wage; dangers to employers with the extra financial burdens that it expects companies to bear; dangers to the economy by putting off inward investment with higher costs; dangers to families by trying to deprive them of nursery education next year. I repeat the words in the Labour party document: It's easy to say 'support the family'. It is harder to find specific policies that will achieve it. Labour has not found the policies. Labour is not the friend of the family. With friends like Labour, who needs enemies? I urge the House to reject the motion and to approve the Government amendment.

7.59 pm
Mrs. Audrey Wise (Preston)

The Minister boasted about the number of women now at work. She displayed throughout her speech a lamentable ignorance of the reality of the world of work for millions of women. She seems to think that having any job for any length of time under any conditions is somehow an advance for women. I beg to disagree. Shorter hours than they want in insecure, low-paid jobs are not beneficial to women.

The Minister says, as if it is a great discovery to which we are oblivious, that many women want part-time jobs. Of course they do. We fully agree with that. For much of my working life, before I came into the House and did a double job, I worked part time. I do not need any lessons. Part-time work used to mean that employees worked two days a week, 20 hours a week, mornings or afternoons—something recognisable, steady and secure. People knew where they were and could make their arrangements accordingly.

Part-time work now is a euphemism for being told that 20 hours will be 12 in future, never mind whether the workers want it; for being told that the contract will be as little as seven hours, with the proviso that, when the employer wishes, the workers will be called in to work the whole week at very short notice or no notice, and if employees say, "I am sorry, my child care arrangements do not allow for that," they are told that there are plenty more willing to take the job.

Although I fully accept the congratulations to good employers in the motion tabled by my right hon. and hon. Friends—of course there are good employers—we are amply justified in complaining bitterly about employers who take advantage of high levels of unemployment. The fact that the Government are happy to say at regular intervals that such conditions are the price that women are prepared to pay to have any work that fits in with their domestic commitments seems to me to show the Government's real motivation.

Of course we want a minimum wage. The idea that it will cost jobs is not borne out by any real evidence. All advances in social conditions have been accompanied by the dismal cries that the country cannot afford the policy and that there will be ruination. Everything from measures to stop boys working up chimneys to legislation to take children out of factories has met the response that the country cannot afford it. Every advance has been accompanied by cries that the country cannot afford it.

The country was not supposed to be able to afford the Equal Pay Act 1970—the modest measure which came into operation in 1975. People said that it would cost women's jobs, yet we are told that more women are now in work. The Minister must learn that some of us can remember rather more than from one sentence, or one paragraph, to the next.

Mr. Ian Bruce

The hon. Lady is robust on these matters. I am sure that she will be able to tell her Front-Bench team what rate she would recommend. What minimum wage does she think is right?

Mrs. Wise

The Labour Front-Bench team has established that it will set up tripartite consultations between employers, trade unions and government. It has done that, in my view possibly unnecessarily, as a concession, to meet the cries of Conservative Members. I expect the trade unions and a Labour Government to ensure that employers do not take undue advantage of that concession, and that the formula results in some sort of fair play. If that rather longer way round than I would have liked results in a solution that employers are more likely to operate, some good may come of it. One of the adverse characteristics of the wages councils system was the widespread evasion of the minimum wages that were laid down.

I hope that what comes out of the consultations is a worthwhile figure which will benefit a substantial number of people. I also hope that, having been involved in it, employers will not be sufficiently bare-faced to evade the minimum wage and fail to meet their legal responsibilities.

Mrs. Gillan

I thank the hon. Lady for giving way. It is most kind. The hon. Lady will not put a figure on the minimum wage. I understand that she has a problem with her Front-Bench team and the consultation process. Will a Labour Government take child care costs into account in the minimum wage calculation? If not, why not?

Mrs. Wise

The hon. Lady is wrong to think that I have any problem with my Front-Bench team. The Government's attempt to divert attention with what I can only describe as nit-picking and quibbling simply shows the poverty of their argument.

I remind the Minister of what she said. She said that she wanted employers to operate the policies that made economic sense for their business. So, if an employer thinks that it makes economic sense to introduce career break arrangements, that is fine. The benefit to the family is clearly incidental to the benefit to the profits of the employer. Conversely, if an employer feels that it is to his benefit to pick up a worker and put her down, to have a zero hours contract, or to employ her for eight or 10 weeks and then say, "Sorry, dear, no more at the moment," that is permissible because it makes economic sense for the business. Family-friendly policies are strictly incidental. I happen to think that it is long past time when work was organised to suit people rather than people's lives were distorted to suit the profit-making desires of employers.

Women are clustered disproportionately in low-paid, insecure jobs in which their hours are not simply part-time but seven hours, zero hours or whatever suits the employer. Casualisation removes the strength of those workers. Most are women. I am in favour of flexible working as long as the flexibility is mutually beneficial and does not involve treating the worker as a disposable, dispensable commodity.

The other side of the coin of short hours is long hours. The Government have resisted the extremely modest proposed European Union directive which would place a maximum of 48 hours on the working week. I was horrified to hear on the radio this morning employers talking happily about workers who work 100 hours a week. One employer said that his workers were young men with young families who wanted to earn as much as they could and therefore wanted to work 100 hours a week. I suggest that those young men with young families do not fulfil their family responsibilities properly; they see themselves as a walking pay packet. If a worker has to work 100 hours a week to pay his mortgage, something is drastically wrong with the housing market, the labour market and the wages.

The idea that we are doing families a favour by resisting a modest maximum of 48 hours a week is disgusting. The Government's case is that it is not a health and safety at work issue. Those men who work 100 hours a week are not only gravely damaging, and putting at risk, their health: they are risking the health, well-being and happiness of their families. Even though they may think that they are acting for the best, they are not being good fathers.

I believe in proper maternity leave. It is disgraceful that the European directive had to be watered down to suit the backwardness of this country, to the disadvantage of women throughout Europe. The Government behave disgracefully in resisting such provisions. I would go further and say that it is long past time that working and maternity leave arrangements acknowledged that babies benefit greatly from breast-feeding, and that mothers should not be prematurely forced back to work.

I believe in paternity and parental leave. It is long past time that work was organised for people. The Government talk about heavy costs on business; I draw the House's attention to the heavy—in many cases, unbearable—costs on families. The Opposition have every right to talk about family-friendly policies, as they are exactly what we shall be introducing.

8.11 pm
Mr. Ian Bruce (South Dorset)

I am grateful to be called so early in the debate. It has been interesting to follow the hon. Members for Dulwich (Ms Jowell) and for Preston (Mrs. Wise) and to note the contrast between them. The hon. Member for Dulwich introduced the debate in a glossy—I do not mean to be rude, perhaps I should say smooth—way and the hon. Member for Preston continued it in a more fiery and emotional way.

From both speeches I gained the strange feeling that new Labour's image of partnerships between business and employees, and between Government and business, is being brushed away. Businesses are profitable when they deal with their employees sensibly. By over-regulating a market, one restricts businesses and prevents them from introducing the policies in which everyone in the House believes.

The hon. Member for Dulwich spoke of people, particularly women, who are in the part-time labour market, their satisfaction with their working hours and the way in which this country has provided more part-time work than virtually any other country in the world. I thought that she was going to come to the conclusion to which her words naturally led: that market forces and deregulation were at work.

In this country, we do not place a tax on jobs for people who earn under a certain amount; we do not charge employers national insurance. The more we place extra on-costs and social costs on employers while trying to hide them away so that employees do not realise that those costs constitute a tax on their jobs, the more we reduce our ability to create jobs in the marketplace.

I ran an employment agency in Yorkshire for 12 years. Many of the people who came to me were women; many of them were women who wanted to be returners. I had filing cabinets full of lists of people wanting part-time work. It was always difficult to persuade people to take full-time, 40-hour-a-week jobs, but there was no shortage of people wanting part-time work.

There is no evidence that, when workers work side by side in an organisation, with one person working part-time hours and another working full-time hours, there is a significant difference in the hourly rate. I know that Opposition Members would love it if no differential were allowed. I can well remember companies in which people would rather go from full-time to part-time working even if it meant taking a lower hourly rate. There is resistance among the work force to believing that someone working full-time hours should not receive a slight premium over those working part-time hours. It is important to maintain flexibility—the flexibility that the hon. Member for Dulwich was describing when she talked of creating so many jobs in the United Kingdom.

The Labour party has started to talk about market forces. Labour Members mouth off about how they would like to see market forces, but they do not seem to accept the inevitable consequences. The hon. Member for Preston clearly said that she did not believe that people should work for low wages and she would be happy to see those jobs disappear if those doing them were not paid the wages that she believed should be paid. That is the natural consequence of what she was saying and of what the Labour party constantly says.

If employers are told that they will have to increase labour costs, that will inevitably put pressure on profitability and a company's ability even to clear its costs. The sort of businesses that pay less than £3.50 or £4 an hour employ large numbers of people—in my constituency, such businesses include the leisure industry, hoteliers and bars. It is extremely important that we consider Government policy of supporting people with low incomes versus the Opposition's policy of the minimum wage.

The Government believe that people on low incomes are entitled to family credit, which is even being extended, in trials, to people who do not have children. The Government say that, if someone takes an entry level job in a business that does not pay high wages and that would collapse if it had to support such wages, we should consider the social costs and consider whether that employee needs help from the state to boost his income. We must be careful: the Labour party thinks that it will not be a tax-and-spend Government if it ever comes to power, but a large number of people—particularly young people and people with few skills—move through entry level jobs on low wages; if those people live at home or have low outgoings, they will not be entitled to family credit or to any other boost from the social security system.

Mrs. Wise

Is there any wage level that the hon. Gentleman considers too low?

Mr. Bruce

The hon. Lady asks that question as though, in our economy, which does not have a minimum wage, someone cannot go out and see what wage he can earn. As a Conservative, I believe that it should be up to the individual to decide what he or she will work for. I often work for nothing, as I am sure the hon. Lady does. If someone volunteers to do something that brings economic benefits to someone else and does not charge for it, that must be the minimum wage. I believe that I have the right to decide how little or how much I am willing to work for. However, I readily accept that, if a wage were unsupportable—if a person could not keep body and soul together on it—that person would obviously apply to the state for a back-up for their money. That is why we have the present system.

The hon. Member for Preston spoke at length about terrible employers, but where are they? One can always find a group of workers—they make up 1 per cent. or 2 per cent. of the working population—whose conditions are unsupportable, but we are not talking about them. We are talking about the vast number of companies in this country in which employers know that, to be profitable, they must share the good things that happen in the company with their employees. It is often noticeable that employees who know that their companies are not doing especially well in the marketplace are willing to earn lower wages to keep the company going and wages coming in, in preference to losing their jobs.

It is interesting to view the cost of child care in the context of regulation and deregulation. I am surprised that so many local authorities and Opposition Members constantly try to raise "standards of child care." They actually believe that if a woman looks after a couple of children for a neighbour and charges for doing so, that woman, who probably has a couple of children of her own, should be subject to special regulations and standards and be assessed by an inspector.

Such regulation is all very well, but it often means that a person cannot afford to go out to work because they cannot afford the on-costs of extra regulation of child care. It is extremely important that we try to allow people to make their own arrangements in the community while providing a long-stop to ensure that children are not abused. But who is the best person to ensure that children are not being abused by a child minder? It must be the parents. We should trust people to take those decisions themselves.

We hear much from Opposition Members about letting people return to work and allowing children the benefits of nursery education. Yet when the Government make available ring-fenced money to force local authorities to set up a nursery provision for four-year-olds, they are immediately condemned by people such as the hon. Member for Bath (Mr. Foster). When Dorset had that opportunity, it found every possible excuse to continue its existing policy whereby only very few children received a full year's nursery education. The Government set up that scheme. They ensured that money went to those nurseries. So much for the family-friendly policies of Opposition Members—they did, and will do, everything possible to frustrate that policy.

What about partnership in business? It is important that we develop policies that allow businesses to give their work force good conditions, which ultimately benefits the business. However, I am convinced that we should go for co-operation rather than forcing them into it. As we all know, and as the hon. Member for Preston said, if onerous and silly conditions are imposed, employers find ways round them and employees collude completely with the employers. They say, "This is daft: I am happy to work for the conditions that I have been given, and I do not believe that I should blow the whistle on this employer, because it is a silly rule."

Mrs. Wise

Is the hon. Gentleman condoning employers who break the law?

Mr. Bruce

No. I am not suggesting for a moment that employers should break the law or that employees should collude with them in so doing, but the reality is that employees do collude with employers because they are happy to make a deal with an employer and they do not want the law to intervene. I am arguing not for breaking the law, but for not having silly laws.

It is incredible that we all bang on about parental leave—leave to allow men to go and help their wives when the child comes home, and to be with the child for a time. The European Community suggests that we should have a rigid system, whereby fathers should be able to insist on taking three months off at a time. An employer is likely to have great difficulty with that, but very few people would want to take that route, because the leave is unpaid. Almost every father in that position has four or five weeks' paid leave available: it is called annual leave, and there are also holiday periods. I am quite certain that if they decide, as we all believe that they should, to take time off, they prefer it to be paid by taking their annual leave at these times. It is logical and sensible for them to do so. It is nonsense for the House to suggest that every man must take unpaid leave, get in there and decide to do his fatherly thing.

I have repeatedly criticised the Labour party, but in the days of Harold Wilson, a Labour Government did one especially good thing: it founded the Open university. Many open learning systems, made available by correspondence course, the Open university or now the Internet, benefit people at home with children by freeing them to get new training and helping them to decide on future careers.

I have spoken for more than long enough to set some of the aspects of this policy in perspective. I would say to any employer reading my words in Hansard that it is to their benefit to seek ways of ensuring that both men and women in their company are enabled to fulfil their family responsibilities far more. It is good for the community, for the individual's development and for their mental and physical health. Getting those conditions right thereby contributes to the health and profits of the company—and remember that "profits" is not a dirty word. Profits to companies means that they keep in business and that they continue to create the jobs that we want to be family-friendly.

8.27 pm
Mr. Don Foster (Bath)

I am slightly disappointed by the wording of the motion. This is a very important debate in which we have an opportunity to tease out the different views and policy options of the Government and the Opposition. Because Labour Members included in their motion the words That this House … looks forward to seeing a Labour Government", I shall be unable to recommend to my right hon. and hon. Friends that we join them in the Lobby tonight. That is a great pity.

I was also disappointed by the contributions to the debate by the Minister and the hon. Member for South Dorset (Mr. Bruce). The hon. Member for South Dorset said that people would want to read his words in Hansard. I hope that very many Members—certainly Opposition Members—will go out of their way to publicise his words and ensure that they receive wide coverage, because they confirmed my party's anxieties about the Government's lack-lustre and laissez-faire approach to family-friendly employment policies.

The Government have professed a great deal of concern for the family but, as we heard, especially in the comments of the hon. Member for South Dorset, their policies do not provide support for the family. The hon. Gentleman said that he believed that he should have the choice as to who he worked for, for how long he should work, and the amount of income that he should earn. If only most people had such choices, we would not be so concerned about the importance of introducing policies to support the family.

The majority of people do not have those choices. Many of them, especially women in part-time jobs, have the problem not only of low income but of considerable insecurity. The hon. Gentleman talked with glowing praise of the Government's deregulation policies as though deregulation were the ultimate panacea. He is right to say that getting rid of unnecessary bureaucracy and red tape is sensible, but to reach the level of deregulation which I suspect that he wants would not be in the interests of anyone in work, and will not ensure that new jobs are created.

Mr. Ian Bruce

The hon. Gentleman has been a Member of Parliament for a number of years now. I have been here for nine years and no one has yet written to me saying that he or she is working too many hours and asking me to ensure that working hours are reduced to 48 per week or less. Has the hon. Gentleman ever received a letter from a constituent on that basis?

Mr. Foster

Not only have I received such letters, but I have seen detailed reports of surveys carried out among the work force to that effect. I do not know whether it appeared in the hon. Gentleman's local newspaper, but a recent survey showed the problems of stress that affect many people, their family life and, more importantly for the hon. Gentleman, the productivity and competitiveness of the organisation for whom they work. If the hon. Gentleman has not seen such surveys, he would do well to look at them, because they show the importance of introducing policies to provide protection and security for people in employment.

Another slightly odd aspect of the contributions that we heard from Conservative Members is that they did not seem to recognise the changing nature of society but simply gave lots of statistics. The nature of society has changed significantly in terms of working patterns and the role of men and women. It is therefore vital that social and employment policies are changed to reflect that. Appropriate employment policies must continue to support the family in those changing circumstances.

I assure you, Mr. Deputy Speaker, that I have no intention of giving a detailed analysis of many of the Government's policies that have harmed family life. If I did so, I would discuss the effects of unemployment on the family, the current housing crisis, the implementation of the Government's care in the community policy, and the work of the Child Support Agency. All those policies, or in some cases lack of policies, have damaged family life. Instead, I shall touch on just one or two issues, some of which have already been mentioned, which I consider important.

It was disappointing to hear the comments of the hon. Member for South Dorset and the Minister on nursery education. They said that those who oppose the nursery voucher scheme are keen to deny the opportunity of nursery education to four-year-olds. They could not be wider of the mark. Our objection to the scheme is that it is cumbersome and bureaucratic and will not deliver the increased expansion of high quality early-years education that is needed.

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Education and Employment (Mr. James Paice)

It will.

Mr. Foster

The Minister says that it will. He knows only too well that in the pilot areas additional sums have had to be made available to make even the pilot scheme work. Those sums will not be available when the scheme is fully implemented. The Minister looks puzzled. I suspect that you, Mr. Deputy Speaker, will rule us out of order if we go too far down that road, but the Minister would do well to look at some of the relaxations of regulations in respect of capital allocations, for example, which had to be offered to the four pilot areas.

The expansion of high-quality early-years education is critical if we are to have family-friendly support, particularly for people who want to work and are currently denied that opportunity. The Liberal Democrat party is committed to that expansion and has said honestly how we would pay for it. I give some credit to the Government for recognising the importance of child care provision. In the past two or three years, the Government have made positive moves to increase provision for child care. Those measures have not gone far enough, however, and I am worried that only 8 per cent. of firms say that in the next two or three years they are likely to make child care provision for their employees. More progress needs to be made in that direction.

Hon. Members on both sides of the House will have been pleased to hear the Minister say that she had invited a range of groups to talk to her about the development of child care policies. Talking, however, is easy. I hope that we shall see positive proposals to expand provision quickly.

To help the hon. Member for South Dorset—who is no longer in his place—to understand the position, I wish to discuss in more detail the position of part-time workers. Some 5 million women are currently in part-time work. It may have been a slip of the tongue by the hon. Member for Dulwich (Ms Jowell), but she said that the majority of those women were satisfied with their conditions. I do not believe that that is the case, because the majority of part-time workers do not share the same benefits, holiday entitlement or even pay and conditions as full-time workers. Six out of 10 part-timers receive lower hourly pay and fringe benefits than full-timers doing the same work in the same firm. Women part-timers earn less than three quarters of the hourly pay of female full-timers and take home only 58p for every pound that men earn. The hon. Member for South Dorset said that he was not aware that any such figures existed.

Because of my concerns about those inequalities, in March this year I introduced a 10-minute Bill calling for equal pro rata rates for part-timers. For similar reasons, my hon. Friend the Member for Littleborough and Saddleworth (Mr. Davies) introduced a Bill to deal with the lack of statutory paid annual leave for part-time employees. On that occasion, I was disappointed that the official Opposition were not prepared to support him in the Division Lobby.

Conservative Members have said that giving pro rata entitlement to benefits would place undue burdens on employers, reduce competitiveness and profitability, and inhibit a firm's ability to employ more people. But as the hon. Member for Preston (Mrs. Wise) said eloquently, all the evidence points to the fact that, if such measures are introduced, they will greatly benefit the employing organisation as well as employees.

In the public sector, the Driver and Vehicle Licensing Agency has introduced a range of family-friendly measures which not only support its employees, enabling them to be more involved with their families at the most convenient times, but enable the agency to cope with the fluctuation in demand for its work. In the private sector, Glaxo research laboratories has introduced a wide range of measures in that respect. Its director of human resources said of those measures: From a business point of view as well as from a cultural point of view, these policies have been a great achievement. They actually save us money. I make the important point—which echoes the point made by the hon. Member for Preston—that, while we welcome the moves by organisations such as the Driver and Vehicle Licensing Agency and Glaxo to do something in this direction, we must ensure that measures are in place for those organisations and employers who are not willing to take on such measures.

I believe that the Government could introduce a whole range of measures but, sadly, they are only concerned with deregulation and with removing what they believe to be burdens on employers. I believe that such measures could provide more support for employees and help them spend time with their families. Such measures could benefit the employing organisations and assist the competitiveness and the future employment opportunities of the country. While I cannot support the Labour party's motion, some of the measures that have been discussed have our support.

8.40 pm
Mr. David Porter (Waveney)

Yet again, the Labour party has chosen a subject for debate that has turned out to be weak ground. Presumably, the spin doctors who monitor the health of Labour's image and the mediadontists who come up with the sound bites thought that family-friendly employment would be a happy, snappy, catchy phrase. However, it has to have the backing of solid policy—it does not stand up alone.

Today's editorial in The Independent— a paper much admired by some Labour Members—describes think tankery as a thing of parts: part charlatanry, part opportunism and part chutzpah. The Labour party, which claims to be the family-friendly party in employment terms, scores on all those counts.

In these politically correct times, we hear a lot about rights. In that context, the right to work is often misinterpreted. It could be said that having been born—which is a God-given right—the only right we then have is to die. However, as human beings we have a number of imperatives that drive us: the need to feed, shelter and clothe ourselves and our own is a moral imperative that comes before the layers of civilisation that time has put on top. We have to work to provide for ourselves and for our dependants. That is an economic necessity now, as it always has been. It arises out of an ancient instinct—a sort of early-man version of "Those who do not hunt, or farm or toil, do not eat."

That is the basics in today's terms, and those of us who still believe that the family is the right and natural structure of society have to see work and the family as our greatest challenge today. The realities of that challenge are stark and clear. A generation ago, 7 million people were employed in manufacturing, and today 4 million people are employed in manufacturing but they produce more than the 7 million people did, because of technology.

A phrase much bandied about is that the distance between the sunrise and the sunset of industries is getting shorter because of technology. Everywhere we look—every profession, every process, every trade, every occupation, every corner of our lives—things are changing because of technology. Technology cannot be stopped, tamed or wishfully thought away.

An increasing number of households have two earners—and a lot of households have young adult earners as well—20 per cent. of households have a single earner, and a frightening 20 per cent., and rising, of households have no earners at all. Potentially, a generation will reach retirement without practically having worked at any time in their lives. We can see the scale of the problem—it is the challenge of the next decade.

What do we have in front of us as solutions so far? We have heard about the minimum wage and the social chapter. As has been amply demonstrated, the negativity of the social chapter—that is, the extra business burden and the undermining of competitiveness—and the negativity of the minimum wage—that is, adding to employer wage costs, loss of part-time work and wage differentials that would ignite wage inflation—outweigh any positive benefits that the economy might gain.

Surely the biggest benefit to families, the most obvious piece of policy making, is to allow people to keep as much of their own income as possible. Whatever we have done on taxes, our instinct remains to cut them. That philosophy is fundamental to achieving a balance between the state and the individual, between big brother and freedom of choice.

The dilemma about that philosophy is at the heart of the Labour party's current problem. It so desperately wants to be like us in terms of harvesting votes when people consider their own economic family well-being, but it cannot suppress for ever its basic roots: the urge to spend other people's money for them and to prescribe other people's lives for them. That is why the Labour party's policies are only manifesto-deep in the main, and they are not very convincing however they are packaged.

I say to my hon. Friends on the Front Bench that a drive to cut taxes must be beneficial to all employment. Successful businesses make it easy for customers to buy from them. We have to make it easy and profitable to employ people, train people, retrain people and trade. I have always thought that the easiest way to cut taxes would be to look at our subscription to the European Union. More and more employers are seeing through the deceit of the argument that we have to be in to trade. Our strength has always been trading around the world—we did not need to subsume ourselves to do that before, and we do not need to now.

In 1995, every man, woman and child in the United Kingdom paid £415 to Brussels, and Brussels graciously handed back £271—therefore, each Briton donated £144 to the European monster. A family of four was £576 worse off. In addition, a potential Labour Government would take £560 a year off each child in the 16-to-18 range because of the abolition of the child benefit. We can see why the Labour party's claim that it is full of family-friendly employment policies is a sick joke.

We have done much to assist more women back into the jobs market. Of course, many have been obliged to work because of economic necessity. The presence of women in the market has meant that it has had to become more flexible, with more choice and varied opportunity. It has focused on qualifications and training in the national context, and it has driven up living standards and generated economic growth.

Measures such as nursery vouchers—which I believe will be a forerunner of a major take-off in choice in lifetime learning, from post-nursery onwards, in the future—are moving in the right direction. We are using British taxpayers' money to let British taxpayers have empowerment in a free market. We need to be a bit bolder now. The nursery vouchers are the toddlers' steps in this—we need to get it running in adult steps as fast as possible for all ages.

We have taken measures to liberalise the economy, to deregulate, to privatise, to stimulate enterprise, to stop the trade unions running the country. We have taken the first steps to use public money to help people off benefits and into work—such as family credit and job match. These measures have been welcomed, but more needs to be done. To be better off out of work than in work must be a reality that is consigned to history as a matter of employment policy priority.

We need to integrate tax and benefits. We could save on administration and achieve a better balance between working families and non-working families. There should not be a penalty for a parent staying at home, any more than there should be no advantage if both parents work. There should not be a positive benefit to being a single parent over being married. We will need some tinkering with the balance in all these areas. I believe that there should be a positive encouragement to being married, and that a widowed person should not be treated the same as a person who was a single parent from the outset.

The most effective instrument of social engineering in this country is the tax and benefit system—it can be used for good or evil, it can influence behaviour and attitudes, and it can affect culture. It has to be exercised alongside employment, job and wealth creation and family policy. We have seen pilots of new policy before—nursery vouchers and a form of workfare.

Perhaps we could set up a pilot scheme of volunteers on some integrated tax, benefits and jobs package where they lose, say, 10 per cent. or less of their income towards supporting state essentials, and then they buy the rest of their needs. That could be a true incentive to generate more wealth and well-being. If that is not possible using people, it should now be possible using computer technology.

The current arrangements for funding the insurance benefits we need when we are sick or out of work are not working absolutely and cannot work in the future if working patterns continue to develop as they are now. If we continue to live longer, more active and more mobile lives, we need to look at how we fund the schemes to see whether a wider choice of insurances to suit changing families would be more effective. Perhaps people could have different insurance when they are in work. We have done a lot on portable pensions and we have looked at mortgage protection and private health cover for retirement, but we need to push this on and extend the choices.

We hear a lot about job insecurity and stress—the hon. Member for Bath (Mr. Foster) referred to stress. We hear about the way that our reforms have heightened stress in professionals—there appears to be a lot more stress about. However, it is not being honest with the nation to say that we can wave a magic legislative wand and tell people, "You will live in a totally stress-free world." On the contrary, we should be saying, "What legislative support is necessary for us to bring in health and safety, tax and family policies to buttress the sorts of choices that individuals and families make for themselves?" I believe that they would do even more if we encouraged them.

More and more people choose to work from home, as well as those who are obliged to, because the new technologies make it possible. The ease with which young people use technology should be an inspiration to those of us who are just learning. We have seen telecottages and other schemes in rural areas for some time. Those schemes harness technology, widen the skill base and help to reduce the jobs disadvantage of rural isolation.

Now the Internet has made all geographical isolation irrelevant. Jobs in my area have long suffered from relative isolation, but the Internet and the related communications revolution have wiped out the disadvantage of location. Futura, a new project to put Waveney at the mouse and keyboard of job creation and enhancement, is one of many nationally, but it is undoubtedly the best.

Of course, we will need to regulate the Internet in a global attempt to control pornography and criminal activity, but we should regulate by agreement, not by European Union directive. We must recognise the power and the potential of the Internet to create wealth for our children and their children, to support themselves and us in our old age.

Some 40 to 50 per cent. of the jobs being done today were not even dreamed of when I was born. Twenty years ago, no one thought that tourism would be the biggest job creator in the world today. Few of us can foresee the jobs that our children's children will do, but if the family is not the bedrock of what they do, they will be the poorer.

It is our duty today, en route to tomorrow, to deliver family-friendly policies that enable families to work, be creative and support each other. The Labour party's ideas are not sustainable or credible, as its motion tonight shows. The Conservative party's ideas are sustainable and credible, if pushed a little further, because they would let people decide as much as possible for themselves.

8.50 pm
Mr. Denis MacShane (Rotherham)

I had thought that the best contribution that I might make to the debate was to suggest that the House of Commons became a family-friendly place, move that the debate be brought to an end, have a vote and let everybody get home an hour or so earlier, but—as the number of hon. Members in the Chamber is swelling as I rise to my feet—I feel that I should continue with my speech.

I touched on this subject in an Adjournment debate some six months ago, when my hon. Friend the Member for Dulwich (Ms Jowell) made a speech nearly as good as the one she made earlier tonight. At that time, we were faced by a different ministerial team, because the Government sent along the Minister for Competition and Consumer Affairs. Clearly, competitiveness was what family policy needed.

Tonight, the Government have sent two Ministers from the Department for Education. I commend a crash course in George Orwell to the Under-Secretary, because I do not recognise as English phrases such as "improving labour market position."

Mrs. Gillan


Mr. MacShane

I shall gladly give way to the Under-Secretary when I have finished with her errors. Many of her facts were wrong. The total labour force in the United Kingdom is shrinking, not increasing. The participation of women in the United Kingdom labour force is 69 per cent. lower than in three other European Union countries. Long-term unemployment among women in the United Kingdom is higher than in Germany and in France. Monthly flows in and out of employment for women—this is the slightly complicated problem of churning, as it is technically called—show that the inflow in 1985 was 0.53 per cent. of the source population, but the outflow of people who lost their jobs was 8.4 per cent.

In 1993, the last year for which we have the figures, the inflow of women into the labour force remained the same, but the outflow had increased by more than a third. More than 10 million people have lost their jobs in the past four years, and, although many have found another one, albeit with lower pay, that deep insecurity is so destabilising for the family.

Mrs. Gillan

Perhaps I can also give the hon. Gentleman a lesson. It is no longer only the Department for Education: it is the Department for Education and Employment.

Mr. MacShane

I am grateful to the Under-Secretary for her correction. She will shortly visit my constituency to present prizes at a private school, or so I read in the Rotherham Advertiser last Friday, although I have not been officially informed of her visit. No doubt the letter is in the post. When the Under-Secretary visits Rotherham, I hope that she will take time, whether she is a Minister for education or employment, to talk to some of the poor and unemployed women in my constituency, who have had no help of any sort from the Government or her Department.

According to the OECD, some 45 per cent. of part-time women workers would like full-time work. People should be clear about that figure as they eulogise the value of part-time work, much of it on zero-hours contracts, at awkward times—some women have to get up for work at 3 or 4 o'clock in the morning—and without any rights, as the hon. Member for Bath (Mr. Foster) mentioned. Those women are obliged to take such work: they do not want it. It would be very exciting if half the Conservative Members of Parliament were prepared to work full-time. We have heard a lot of chatter from Conservative Members about job creation in recent years and, indeed, many Conservative Members have half a dozen of those jobs each.

One issue that should be addressed, which has not been addressed in a single speech by a Conservative Member, is the fundamental hostility of our political economy to the family. The responsibility for that for the past 17 years rests with the Conservative Government. In any of the main indicators of the health of family life—including the number of divorces or the number of children born to single mothers under the age of 18—the figures from Britain are worse than any other leading European and most Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development countries. That is reality as it is lived for families in much of this country.

I deeply hope that my hon. Friends on the Front Bench will put the family at the front of many of our policies. What should those policies be? For a start, we should bring working time under control. At business questions last week, we heard a clamour from the Europhobes—the anti-European Goldsmith faction on the Conservative Benches—for a debate on the 48-hour week directive. I would welcome that debate, because one of the most destructive sulphuric acids that eats into family life in our society is the obligation that we place on so many citizens, men and women, to work hours far more than those that should be necessary in a modern economy. Benjamin Disraeli legislated for the 56-hour week in 1876, and Tory Ministers oppose the 48-hour week 120 years later.

I was taken with the reference to the leisure industry by the hon. Member for Waveney (Mr. Porter). I agree with him. We have some wonderful country parks in Rotherham. I recently took my children to a butterfly farm, and I recommend it to all visitors to South Yorkshire with time to spare. Such attractions are not visited enough, because too many of my constituents have too long a working week, and others who have no work do not have the discretionary income to spend on the modest charges that the leisure industry reasonably demands. Controlling and reducing working time would greatly advantage the leisure industry.

The issue of parental leave is mocked in the same manner as maternity leave was when it was first suggested. If one looks back through Hansard, one can see that the arguments deployed against maternity leave are now deployed against paternity leave.

The child-care issue is often raised. I can speak from experience on that subject, as I have lived in countries where child care is provided for all women as a social right. Child-care provision assists women who wish to participate in the work force. It strengthens families, who do not have to scabble around for unsatisfactory child care, because they know that they are entitled to it. I urge my right hon. and hon. Friends on the Labour Front Bench to put nursery provision for three to five-year-olds—I am more ambitious than Labour policy; I am honest about that—at the forefront of our policy concerns when we form a Government.

I turn now to the problem of wages. I have been in trouble in South Yorkshire for suggesting that we should have a labour market in which it is not obligatory for two wage earners in each household to go to work to earn sufficient money to provide not luxuries, but a decent living. Both a husband and wife or couples—I am not interested in their religious or civil status—are often obliged to work to earn a fair household income.

I repeat that I want to see a labour market—I do not believe that it would be turning back the clock, as the problem affects both men and women—in which one income is sufficient to meet household needs, allowing one adult in a household to devote his or her time to sharing care for the family.

The minimum wage is undoubtedly a step forward in that regard. In the past four years, the Americans have created 10 million jobs—many of them for women. Some 77 Republican Congressmen now vote to increase the minimum wage. Ron Brown, the United States Commerce Secretary who died tragically in Croatia recently, published an article in The Wall Street Journal arguing for an increase in the US minimum wage. It is profound economic nonsense to claim that a minimum wage destroys jobs, when the evidence from the United States and Asia says the opposite.

The Conservatives parade themselves as the party of the family. However, they ultimately view the family in rather mechanistic, 19th-century terms—as depicted in a Rossetti painting. The family is the most important unit in any society. The family unit looks after the weak and the old, and it protects those who are unable to protect themselves. It does not privilege the strong, the mighty and the fleet of bank account.

In most families, the cleverest and the high achievers are teased and put in their place. The opposite has occurred in the past 18 years: the weak have been asked to relinquish wealth to the rich; the poor have been asked to become poorer so that the wealthy can become wealthier; and the less fortunate in society have been decanted on to our streets in order to set an example to those who would express solidarity and community with them. In many ways, I view the nation as a family, which encourages the strong and looks after the weak. Government policy has denied that notion in the past 18 years, and the position must now be reversed.

9.3 pm

Mr. Edward Leigh (Gainsborough and Horncastle)

The hon. Member for Rotherham (Mr. MacShane) paints a Dickensian picture of our country, which he knows bears no relation to reality. However, as he announced earlier, he is a representative of old Labour, and as such, we welcome him to the debate. I suppose that there is an element of socialist coherence in what he says, so he adds to the debate.

The same could not be said of the hon. Member for Dulwich (Ms Jowell) who opened the debate. She used the phrase "sanctimonious hypocrisy." I would not be so ungallant as to refer to her speech as reeking of "sanctimonious hypocrisy," because she is clearly not hypocritical. She was trying to sustain an argument, but she found it impossible to sustain it to the end of her speech.

The reason is that those who speak for new Labour, on this subject or any other, have realised that we live in a deeply conservative nation. Whatever their socialist or radical instincts may be, they have to temper them when they devise policies or draw up their manifesto. An obvious example is the minimum wage. It is not unreasonable for any Conservative Member or any Labour Member—the hon. Member for Preston (Mrs. Wise) is a case in point—to inquire what the minimum wage would be. It is a fundamental question which needs to be answered.

I teased the hon. Member for Dulwich about Labour's new slogan being "Workers of the world consult," but at least the old-style socialist programme had some coherence. The minimum wage is like a piece of detritus of old Labour which has been washed up on the beach, left behind by the Blairite revolution. Labour is saddled with the minimum wage, but Labour Members are so embarrassed by it that they will not inform us what the level will be. Every study shows that the introduction of a minimum wage could put up to 900,000 people out of work.

Mrs. Wise

Would the hon. Gentleman be embarrassed to tell us what he thinks is the lowest acceptable wage? Is there too low a low wage?

Mr. Leigh

No, I would not be embarrassed to answer that question. Clearly, people want to work. The marketplace and their own skills will decide the question. I do not know what the lowest wage per hour is in my constituency; I suspect that it is very low. It is probably well below £2 an hour. That is a very low wage, but if it is the only wage available, it is better to work for that than not to have any wage at all.

I am not trying to dodge the question. I believe that, ultimately, people must be allowed to seek work where they want, and that we should not throw up to 900,000 workers, many of them women, out of work. The minimum wage was the first problem that the hon. Member for Dulwich faced. She had grave difficulty in telling the House what her solution would be to the very grave problems we are talking about.

The hon. Member for Rotherham was right to allude to the problems of society with which we are all trying to grapple, and he was right to allude to the high rate of divorce in this country and to the enormous pressures being placed on family life. However, none of us, including the hon. Member for Dulwich, has an instant solution. At the end of the debate, she is short on solutions. I quite understand that, because I would find it difficult to offer solutions.

There is a fundamental philosophical divide between Labour Members and myself. I now want to give my own perspective on the debate which may be different from that of some of the other speakers.

A constant thread running through the debate has been that it is absolutely right—indeed, that we should take pride in it—that more and more mothers are going out to work. The elegant and informative document that has been provided for us by central office gives us all sorts of facts and figures with which I will not delay the House. I see that the hon. Member for Stockport (Ms Coffey) already has a copy, obtained no doubt from some photocopying machine in this building. That document takes great pride in the number of women, most of them presumably mothers, who are going out to work.

I do not know what sort of society Labour Members ultimately want to achieve, but I suspect that it is a society in which the old-fashioned concept of the family will be swept aside. I think it works extremely well; it is a division of labour which works well.

The hon. Member for Rotherham spoke in glowing terms about the family, but for some reason, he thought that a Rossetti view was somehow wrong. I do not think that it is wrong at all. The whole point of the family is that it supports the weak. The hon. Gentleman's problem is that he equates the family with the state, whereas the state is very different from the family. The whole point about the family is that it is a sufficiently small and loving unit to enable people to support one another. That cannot be equated with the state.

I suspect that there is a strong streak of feminism running through the debate. The feminist view is that women and men are fundamentally the same. Of course they are equal, but they are very different. I believe that the old-fashioned concept of the family, usually based on the man working and the woman staying at home and bringing up the children, is right. That sort of family bolsters society.

The hon. Member for Rotherham bewails the collapse of society. Let me tell him that the reason for all the current social problems is not 18 years of Conservative government—which I suspect has made very little difference, except on the margins—but the fact that in western society, not only in this country but in France, Germany and America, there has been a wholesale move based on increasing economic pressures. Those pressures are forcing more and more people out of work who do not actually want to work.

I believe that the hon. Member for Dulwich said that women want to work. Of course some women want to work, but not all of them do. Is it right that we should create a society in which more and more women are forced into low-paid part-time jobs just to help to pay the mortgage? They do not want to work; they want to stay at home.

What is the solution? Is it a socialist solution? Should we pay women to stay at home? That may seem attractive at first sight, but we cannot afford it. Is the solution a sort of nationalisation of family life? That simply does not add up. We have heard various other proposals, such as allowing parental leave, but no figures have been given: no one has worked out how some of these brilliant ideas involving the use of the state, or the taxation system, to keep people at home will operate.

Nothing concrete has come from the Labour party. My view, for what it is worth, is that there is no instant solution, but if any hon. Member can be said to have identified a solution today, it is my hon. Friend the Member for Waveney (Mr. Porter). He tried to explore what was wrong with society, and proposed sensible solutions.

Is it right, for instance, that our tax system should discriminate against a family in which the man works and the woman stays at home? Is it right for us to have a benefits structure that, in many ways, encourages single parenthood? There is nothing wrong with single parenthood; it may be thrust on one through no fault of one's own, because of divorce or for some other reason. But is it right for us to have a housing system, a benefits system and a welfare system that encourage dependency and single parenthood?

It is a little-known fact that this vicious, right-wing, cutting, Dickensian Conservative Government have increased social security expenditure by 75 per cent. in real terms in the 17 years for which they have been in power. [Interruption.] The cry that constantly comes from Opposition Members is that the increase is due to unemployment, or to the fact that we have created an impoverished society. Unfortunately, that simply is not true. If Opposition Members consult any statistic, they will see that we are now an infinitely wealthier society than we were 17 years ago—but we are adding to dependency and worsening the poverty trap through our own welfare policies.

I am not saying that it is possible to slash the social security budget overnight, to deliver tax cuts next November, for instance. That is not the right way to proceed. We must, however, ask ourselves why, although this Conservative Government have increased social security spending by 75 per cent. in real terms, and although this year we are spending roughly the same this year as a proportion of gross national product as did the Callaghan Government—£90 billion a year—we have record rates of divorce and family breakdown, and all the other statistics that worry us.

The Opposition suggest that the solution to all the problems is to spend more. They want to add to the social security budget, to introduce a minimum wage and the social chapter, and to have more regulation. All those proposals would simply add to Government expenditure, but, apart from adding considerably to the tax bill, they would make no difference.

Given expenditure of £300 billion a year, are the Opposition really suggesting that increasing spending on health, education or trade and industry by, say, 1 per cent. would fundamentally alter the country's economic performance? Are they suggesting that, in some mystical, mythical way, that would create the tens of thousands of new jobs that we all want? It simply does not add up—but those who frame Labour party policy know that, if they suggested anything more radical, they would be seen off by the electorate. No solutions have been proposed by Labour Members.

I urge Ministers not to be misled by the rhetoric of Labour Members. My hon. Friend the Minister told us, with some pride, that we spend £64 million on child care facilities. Should we be doing that as a Conservative Government? Is it helping to tackle the problem?

Mr. MacShane

That is a policy.

Mr. Leigh

It is a policy, but is it the right one?

This is a very difficult problem to address. Should we say to single parents, "Put your child into a state nursery; we will pay for it, and you can go out to work"? Is that a good policy for the party of the family and of tradition? Should we encourage mothers to look after their children, and, if so, are we prepared to pay them to do so? These are the problems with which we must grapple, and instead of hurling insults, it would have been interesting if the Opposition had proposed a solution.

Mrs. Gillan

Expenditure on the out-of-school child care initiative amounts to £64 million. That is seed money to create out-of-school child care places. It enables working women to find affordable out-of-school child care for their children, and in many instances it provides new businesses for women and men who have set up initiatives in response. It is seed money, not a blanket handout from the state.

Mr. Leigh

I am grateful to my hon. Friend for setting the record straight, but in a debate of this nature, at least one speech should question the prevailing ethos, which has been that we want to encourage more women to go out to work. We should certainly give equal opportunities to women, but we should create a society in which the traditional concept of the family is nurtured.

I am conscious that I have not proposed any obvious policies, but I do not think that politics is about proposing instant policies. Politics is surely much more about values and ethics. This place is awash with policies—from think tanks, debates and manifestos—that ignore what is happening in the outside world. We should be trying to proclaim values, which are important. If we address ourselves to those, we can gradually start to create a society in which we can all believe.

9.17 pm
Ms Jean Corston (Bristol, East)

I am delighted to take part in the debate and to speak in support of the motion.

At the heart of the motion is the assertion that children who live with two parents should feel that they have two parents. In far too many families, the father is a weekend guest celebrity, and that cannot be allowed to continue.

Today, I chaired a well-attended meeting of the all-party parliamentary group on parenting. We were privileged to be addressed by Mr. Gregor Hatt, a member of the Swedish Commission on the Role of Men and Parenting. It was set up in 1992 to assess the success or otherwise of the Swedish Government's parental leave requirements, which were introduced in 1974. The requirements are that there should be 10 days' paternity leave when a child is born. Nine out of 10 Swedish fathers take up the full 10 days. That is followed by 12 months of parental leave allocated between parents—for example, six months each or half time for 24 months. Parents can choose any combination, but the father must use one month of the parental leave and the leave must be used up before the child is eight.

It is important to stress that parental leave is seen as an individual right by the Swedish Conservative party, which has supported the proposals. In 1980, 22 per cent. of Swedish men used their parental leave entitlement. By 1992, the figure had grown to 38 per cent. and it is now 50 per cent.

In view of what the Minister said, it is important to stress that the parental leave package costs Sweden 0.1 per cent. of its gross national product, and that the proposals apply to all workers whatever the size of their company, and include the self-employed. The benefits to Swedish society and industry have been tremendous. Women workers are not isolated in pursuing family-friendly employment policies, and there have been tremendous benefits to men workers.

The chairman of Volvo, one of Sweden's most successful companies, recently said that, if he had to choose between two identically qualified men applying for a job, he would always choose the man who had taken parental leave. I suggest that this is because those who are responsible for bringing up children have to look after them throughout the day. They pick up many skills: conflict avoidance, dispute resolution, time management, critical path analysis and budgeting. People in commerce and industry spend a great deal of time and money trying to impart such skills to their managers.

No one ever looks back and says, "I wish that I had spent more time in the office." Too many men suddenly realise that their teenage children are strangers to them. It is obviously right that there should be a partnership between Government and employers and that the Government should set an example in the public sector.

In a recent speech in South Africa, President Mandela surprised his audience by saying that fathers should regularly collect their children from school; that they should share that responsibility, because it was important for them to be seen to have responsibility for their children. He was saying that absent fatherhood was not a good idea. He of all fathers had a good reason for being absent while his children were growing up, but that should not apply to other fathers.

I advise hon. Members to visit schools in their constituencies and ask the children, "How many of you have dads who earn more than your mum?" Most children will put up a hand. The next question should be, "How many of you have dads who are cleverer than your mum?"

In response to that very few children will put up their hands. As long as we continue to pursue employment policies that corral men into working long hours during which they are disengaged from their families, such men will pay a price through ill-health and through not knowing their children. The children will grow up in a world of women, which is not good for them and we shall weaken women in the employment market.

The twin track strategy of increasing the role of men as fathers and women's rights at work is the proper responsibility of Government. I look forward to the time within a year when we shall be in government and getting on with the job.

9.22 pm
Mr. Clive Soley (Hammersmith)

I am pleased to follow my hon. Friend the Member for Bristol, East (Ms Corston), who recently took over from me as the chair of the all-party parenting group. I remind the Minister that, two years ago, in autumn 1994, the international year of the family, we produced a report which was sent to some Ministers, including the Secretary of State for Education and Employment. The majority of members of the group were Conservatives. That has changed slightly, in that one of its members joined the Liberal party, one joined the Labour party and another abandoned the Tory whip. Two are still in the group and one of them is a Minister.

The most important recommendation in that report was the one that in my view made the most serious criticism of the Government because it related to the Government's failure to have a coherent, overall policy on parenting, children or families. That is the problem and it was not just the Labour party that said that.

I had enormous respect, as had Conservative Members, for Baroness Lucy Faithful!, who died a short time ago. She came with me to see the then Secretary of State for Health to say that we needed co-ordination between Departments and between the Government, local authorities and the private sector to get a proper policy on families, parenting and children. She wanted such a policy as much as I did, and every organisation working in any of these spheres knows that the lack of such a policy is the problem. I cannot overstate the importance of having a policy. It is crucial to the social structure and fabric of this country.

We have, quite rightly, heard an awful lot in this debate about changing work patterns. Five or six years ago, I became aware of this issue and its implications for children and parenting when I discovered the amazing figure that, in south Wales, close to 50 per cent. of main carers of children at home are men.

What has happened in this country—although it is not unique to this country—in heavy-industry areas that have collapsed is that women go into part-time work. That is desirable and proper, but it leaves men in an increasingly uncertain position because they no longer have full-time jobs. The macho culture in which they were brought up has been taken away and they are no longer valued as parents. The role of father has been undermined. We recently heard criticisms from a Conservative Member of the St. Mellon's estate in Cardiff because it had too many single mothers. One question that the Government and the country must take on board is: if we de-skill those men and give them no role as fathers, what use will they be to women? They do not bring in an income and they cannot bring up children. So we wind up with those male macho figures without jobs and without hope.

The tragedy is that, when Conservative Members see some of those men in the street, they think that they are there to cause aggro and that they are yobbos. Talk to those men—scratch the surface—and one will very often find a very insecure and uncertain young man who has no hope in life. In that direction lies high crime, social breakdown and all the other problems that we find not only in this country—which I readily admit—but in other countries. But other countries are at least addressing the issue.

What are we doing about the problem in this country? Basically, we have moralised about it and made moral statements condemning single parents, people who are not married, or this group or that group. Moralising is insufficient. Of course there is room for moral statements, but we will have major difficulties if we do not have policies to underpin them.

I am sorry that the Minister who opened this debate is not in the Chamber. I should have liked to tell her that it is no good telling me that we have a policy designed to help families when the fact is that we still put children into bed-and-breakfast and emergency accommodation for anything up to three years, and when the Government still do not have a policy on it.

We tell schools that they must get tough on school misbehaviour and exclude children from school. Often, although not always, that is right. But if we do not then provide those children with at-home tuition or some alternative education—leaving them to wander the streets for much of the time—we should not be surprised if we create adults who have major problems themselves.

Let us consider the recent event at Dunblane. We greatly criticised—quite rightly—the man who committed the killings and who then killed himself. But who has forgotten that that man was brought up, as an adopted child, to believe that his mother was his sister? The two men who were recently sent to prison for gross abuse of children were abused as children. I would bet a pound to the penny that the man who took a machete to those children the other day either has a history of mental illness or has been abused in some way himself. The pattern is repeated over and over again.

The hon. Member for Gainsborough and Horncastle (Mr. Leigh) said that there are no quick fixes for such problems, and he is right. But unless we start finding a fix for them, the problems will get worse. With changes in technology and in the economy, there are more people who are hopeless and helpless. We also have technology—witness the guns in Dunblane—that enables grossly disturbed people to kill or to do immense harm to other people. It is not merely a matter of banning guns but of examining the way in which family structures have broken down.

I again tell the Minister that co-ordination between Departments is vital. For example, about 25 per cent. of children aged under 12 in this country go home to an empty house or are at home in an empty house during the school holidays. Close to 2 million children are in that position, if I remember the figures correctly. The answer is not to change employment back to what it was in the 1940s and 1950s—no one is capable of doing that.

We must recognise that there is a need for good nursery care and for something like a kids' club approach that provides places for children out of normal school hours. The Government are boasting about more part-time jobs for women—something that I support. But they must recognise that, if the man is working as well, that often means that the child goes home to an empty house or has nowhere to go during the school holidays.

My hon. Friend the Member for Dulwich (Ms Jowell) said that the House of Commons was one of the most appalling examples of bad child care practice. To the best of my knowledge, there is still only one high chair for feeding kids in the House, and there is nowhere to change a baby. I have wandered round the House trying to change a baby, and I can tell hon. Members that the Clerk's desk is about the right height but lacks the supporting facilities to do it effectively. The House of Commons does not take this matter seriously.

The problems will get worse. I am a great believer in crime prevention schemes and in doing many things that the Government are not doing, but, at the end of the day, good parenting matters. The Minister has yet to respond to the Select Committee's suggestion that there is a definite need in schools for some life skills education, including parenting. If we simply say to the young men I have described that they will somehow find a job when they leave school—despite the fact that the shipyards, the steel mills and the coal mines have gone and that they are not receiving appropriate training—we will produce another generation which is not equipped to deal with the modern technology-based economy that has developed over the years.

The Minister should look again at the Select Committee report, which was supported by a number of Conservative Members—some of whom have since left the Conservative party—and received general support from all parties. It would be a good memorial to Baroness Faithfull if the Government were to respond to her belief that there should be better integration between Departments. That is what the Government should be doing, and what I hope the next Labour Government will do as a matter of urgency.

9.31 pm
Ms Ann Coffey (Stockport)

I am pleased to have the opportunity to wind up this important debate. This is an Opposition debate, and the high quality of contributions and the interest shown in the debate outside the House demonstrate that Labour's choices for debates reflect the real concerns of people outside.

In February last year, the Select Committee on Employment published its report "Mothers in Employment". The Committee had taken evidence on employment practices that took account of the caring responsibilities of employees, and recommended a stronger role for the then Department of Employment in promoting these. The Government responded by saying that they actively encouraged good practice, and had produced three booklets on the subject—the same three booklets mentioned by the Under-Secretary. We certainly cannot fault the Government for their production of pamphlets over the years.

The Government said that they had been congratulated on the introduction of a range of family-friendly options throughout the civil service, and the Department of Social Security and the Department of the Environment are mentioned in the UK's employer initiatives produced by Parents at Work. However, the Department for Education and Employment is not mentioned. It is hard to feel convinced that the Minister is serious in her commitment to this matter if her own Department cannot be cited as an example of excellence.

It would have helped if the Government, in their response to the Select Committee report, had gone a little way towards acknowledging the problems and stress of combining home and work for the 3 million employees with caring responsibilities. However, the good news is that, in response to today's debate, Conservative central office has issued a briefing which states: The Government is committed to employment practices which support the family and are available to men as well as women, enabling men to share in caring for their children and assisting women to work". The Government have now issued another pamphlet, but what is again missing from the paper is any briefing on the effect on the family of inflexible and stressful working practices. So much for the party of the family.

The Government are very powerful and can legislate in a way that affects every aspect of people's lives and the choices that they can make about their lives. Their statement to the Select Committee that they do not wish to interfere unnecessarily in family life was strange, coming from a Government who, over the past 17 years, have interfered in every aspect of people's lives.

The messages that the Government send about what they consider important and the values that they hold are powerful—people listen. The Government set the climate, especially for employment practices. The Government's message has been that they are not interested in employees and that it is up to the market or to employers to deal with them.

If the Government are not interested, why should employers be? At the same time as Minister after Minister makes statements about the value of the family and expresses concern and regret about rocketing divorce figures, they wash their hands of responsibility for the consequences for the family of their legislative changes, as if they think that people's private responsibilities can be wholly separated from the economic and social structure in which they make their choices.

The pace of change in recent years has had an unparalleled impact on the family. In 1991, there were 171,000 divorces—the highest figure in Europe. We have no figures for breakdowns among stable but unmarried partners. Partners' expectations of marriage have increased, and tolerance of unhappy relationships has decreased. At the same time, the demand for good parenting, spending time with children and being involved with their school work and leisure pursuits has increased. However, the pressures on those families at work have increased. We have the longest working hours in Europe. One quarter of UK full-time employees work more than 48 hours a week. That is more than twice as many as in any other European country. It does not even lead to efficiency at work.

Everywhere else in Europe, the number of hours that people work is declining; in the UK, it is increasing. People on low wages have to work longer for a living wage because hourly rates have dropped since the abolition of the wages councils. Greater Manchester low pay unit cites a woman who works as a legal secretary for £1.66 an hour and a man who worked 66 hours a week as the manager of a club and earned £1.50 an hour. There are other examples.

Job insecurity and short-term contracts are driving people on higher wages into longer and longer hours. Parents at Work gives the example of a full-time employee who said: I am reluctant to put my hand up in the current environment and say 'Can I do less hours?' They might just say—yes, a whole lot less, and I'd be out of a job. In the same survey, 72 per cent. of women reported that they were exhausted from rushing home to spend time with their children and had little time for their relationships. The current work culture does not understand that working efficiently does not mean working excessively. The consequences of downsizing, outsourcing and re-engineering the work load are longer hours for those left, and people putting in face time rather than real time to show commitment to their jobs, at the expense of their families.

The same survey showed that half of fathers spend less than five minutes a day in one-to-one contact with their children: 96 per cent. of those working long hours cited pressure of work as the reason; 55 per cent. said that the workplace culture led to longer working hours; and a further 35 per cent. gave direct pressure from line management as the reason. At least 18 per cent. were in fear of losing their jobs. Job security is not Labour scaremongering but a fact of life.

All the evidence suggests that long hours do not increase efficiency and productivity at work. They certainly create exhaustion and stress, which is brought back into the equally demanding roles of parent, carer or partner. The personal cost is high, as is the cost to the nation. Time off for stress-related illness costs the UK up to 10 per cent. of gross national product every year. That does nothing to help good parenting, for which we rely on the family.

Some women with families who work have no other option because of economic pressures. About 60 per cent. fall into that category. The long hours worked by their partners mean that they have to do two jobs, at home and at work. The growth in the number of women working part time in service industry has been of enormous benefit to employers, as the Minister accepted when she said: Flexible working patterns are important to a competitive labour market. However, often it is a one-way traffic. It means being in work at a time when the employers want them in work for the time that benefits the employer and the employer only. Yet those are the very employees who have the most domestic responsibilities.

The Conservative party brief says: If managed effectively, flexible working should enable individuals to balance a career with other domestic commitments. That is true, but it appears too often that effective management is left entirely with the family.

For the 30 per cent. of women who work because they want to maintain their skills and develop their career, the pressures are often too great. All too often, they give up as full-time and part-time workers because of the stress of coping with family and work. Many of those women are highly skilled and their skills are lost.

We all agree that one of the most profound changes in recent years has been the increase in the number of women who combine a job with a family. The family as a whole is increasingly in the workplace, but the family is still the primary source of satisfaction of emotional needs for adults and the centre of support for bringing up children and caring for elderly relatives. If, for example, the current level of support for elderly relatives collapsed, resulting in heavier reliance on state provision—or what is left of it—the cost to the country would be catastrophic.

The Government's community care policies depend on unpaid and informal care. Surely the Government need to do more to understand the problems and use their immense influence to give a lead. It is equally true that, if women pulled out of the workplace, the industry of this nation would collapse.

The Government talk about not placing unreasonable burdens on the taxpayer, but poor working practices create unnecessary stress and impact at home. For example, if an employer is not willing to be flexible in helping parents to pick up children from school and take them somewhere else, people have to fund temporary and expensive child care arrangements. The cost of child care is four times what it was 10 years ago. That expensive child care reduces the value of people's wages, whether it can be accommodated by the employer or not. If the stress of coping contributes to marital breakdown, from which divorce may, sadly, result, what is then the cost to the taxpayer?

Each year, £330 million is paid out in legal aid for matrimonial proceedings. That is not to mention the £115 million to fund the Child Support Agency. That is the bottom line. Then there is the cost to the health service of treatment for stress and all the associated illnesses such as heart disease and alcohol abuse, which amounts to a staggering £2,461.42 million a year. That is the burden to the taxpayer. If that does not impinge on the Government, whose propensity is to deal with the symptoms and not the causes, perhaps they will be persuaded by the overwhelming evidence that happier, less stressed employees are more efficient and more productive at work.

The Government should listen to the employers mentioned by the Minister. They are hard-headed, tough business people. They act not out of altruism but because it makes sense. It is not good enough for the Government to view family life as solely a private matter. The success of family life is something in which we all have a vested interest. The family is in the workplace. We in the Labour party understand that. We also understand that the family has to be underpinned with support across policies from housing to education, from child care to employment—but not just any old employment. People need employment that values and respects them. We expect the Government to give a strong message to employers to be good managers and to have consideration for employees.

The Conservative party is struggling to understand why it remains so profoundly unpopular. I shall tell it why. It is because people do not think that it cares about them or understands the realities of their life. They expect more from a Government than abandonment of them and their families to the marketplace. Their families are the most important aspect of their life. They want their families to be happy, secure and stable. They want to combine that with employment in which they are respected and rewarded. The next Government will understand that, because the next Government will be a Labour Government.

9.43 pm
The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Education and Employment (Mr. James Paice)


Mr. MacShane

Top that.

Mr. Paice

Well—if the hon. Member for Stockport (Ms Coffey) had done the House the courtesy of replying to the debate, perhaps I would. She delivered a pre-prepared speech and made no reference to speeches from hon. Members on either side of the House.

It has become apparent from the debate—it was clear from the speech of the hon. Member for Dulwich (Ms Jowell)—that the Opposition seem to believe that only women are interested in or able to talk about the family.

Mr. David Jamieson (Plymouth, Devonport)

At least my hon. Friend the Member for Stockport (Ms Coffey) wrote her speech.

Mr. Paice

Before the hon. Gentleman makes any more pathetic little interventions, I can tell him that I wrote my speech. Perhaps he should have listened to the debate.

The hon. Member for Dulwich also said that mothers do not stop being mothers when they go to work, and she was right. What I found offensive was the suggestion behind that comment that fathers stop being fathers when they go to work. Both sides of a family are important to the upbringing of the children. There have been grounds for dispute about the Labour party's policies over the past few years, but there is no dispute between the parties about the importance of the family as a central part of our society. We differ on how to address the needs of the family.

The Opposition cannot accept the central point of the debate. There is no dispute about whether there are business advantages in modern employment practice, whether it relates to staff turnover, return on training or the number of hours worked. We part company with the Labour party on whether the Government should make the decision and remove the right to make it from businesses and employees, or whether those businesses and individuals should have the freedom to decide and do what is best for them.

Earlier in the debate, some Opposition Members suggested that the cost to business was the same whether the matter was dealt with in a voluntary or statutory way. Those suggestions demonstrated the fundamental lack of understanding of business in the Labour party. If one adopts a voluntary approach to improving standards of employment practice across the board, as the Government have, it is possible for individual businesses of all sizes and disparate abilities to decide the best way of adapting their circumstances to meet the needs of the changing world of employment and business.

For example, businesses should be able to respond to urgent demands that may require sudden bursts of work with little notice owing to the nature of the business. If businesses are hamstrung with regulations, they cannot make that response.

Mr. Geoffrey Hoon (Ashfield)

Will the Minister give way?

Mr. Paice

No, I shall not give way.

My hon. Friend the Member for South Dorset (Mr. Bruce) spoke with knowledge of the labour market and gave clear examples of the individual's right to choose the rate for which he or she is prepared to work. He also emphasised the fact—central to the issues behind the debate—that to legislate to deal with a tiny minority is to disadvantage the vast majority of society who act in a way that we believe to be right.

The hon. Member for Bath (Mr. Foster) referred to employment rights for part-time workers. In its proposals, the Trades Union Congress, which obviously advocates those rights, accepts that they will result in a burden on business of £1.6 billion—that is hardly a marginal cost, and is bound to have a significant effect on employment.

My hon. Friends the Members for Waveney (Mr. Porter) and for Gainsborough and Horncastle (Mr. Leigh) made thoughtful, forward-looking speeches on policy. I cannot go all the way on the European issues with my hon. Friend the Member for Waveney, but he referred to the importance of lowering taxes. He made it clear that what matters to a household is its take-home pay. He did not have time to say that, under this Government, a quarter of all taxpayers pay tax at only 20 per cent.—a record of which the Government are extremely proud.

The hon. Member for Rotherham (Mr. MacShane) suggested obtusely that 45 per cent. of women who work part time want full-time work. I do not know where he got that figure from.

Mr. MacShane

May I enlighten the Minister? The Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development 1995 employment report, page 189.

Mr. Paice

I would refer the hon. Gentleman to a more recent labour force survey, which apparently is accepted by the Labour party, which showed that only 11 per cent. of women in part-time work wanted full-time work.

The hon. Member for Hammersmith (Mr. Soley) has been a Member of the House longer than many of us in the Chamber at present. [Interruption.] He is indeed a very distinguished Member of the House; I have no problem with that. I do not wish to sound patronising, but his speech was much more thoughtful than many others, because he accepted that there are no glib and easy answers.

The Under-Secretary, my hon. Friend the Member for Chesham and Amersham (Mrs. Gillan), has read the report to which the hon. Gentleman referred and of which he reminded the House, and has taken those points on board. The hon. Gentleman mentioned what are known as latchkey kids—children who go home to an empty house. Of course that issue worries us, and that is why we have made the child care initiatives that my hon. Friend proposed, from which 71,000 families now benefit. She described the proposals for continuing and developing the scheme.

Mr. Soley

Conservative Members rightly say that an increasing number of women are going out to work. If, as they say, that is a good thing, who will look after children of school age during the school holidays? That is why kids' clubs are important.

Mr. Paice

That is precisely why the Government have introduced the out-of-school child care initiative that my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary mentioned. It is not an answer in itself, but, as she said in response to an intervention by my hon. Friend the Member for Gainsborough and Horncastle, it is seedcorn money, designed to stimulate greater activity in the market by employers and other providers, to develop the provision that the hon. Member for Hammersmith rightly mentions.

Surprisingly, much has been made by the Labour party of its proposals for a minimum wage. I remind Labour Members that the vast majority of research supports the Government's view that a national minimum wage would lead to considerable job losses, especially among the young and among unskilled workers. The only issue in dispute is the extent of those losses. The OECD, the International Monetary Fund, The World Economy and the European Community White Paper acknowledge that statutory minimum wages adversely affect employment prospects.

My hon. Friend the Member for Gainsborough and Horncastle and others challenged the Labour party on the level of a minimum wage. The Labour party may escape by saying that it has not set the level so we cannot estimate job losses, but we know that the Labour party's trade union paymasters want a minimum wage of more than £4 an hour. At that level, we believe that 900,000 jobs would be lost, assuming that only half the differentials were restored. With full restoration, 1.7 million jobs would be lost.

How would the hon. Member for Rotherham apologise to his constituents and others in the north-west—I am sorry, north-east—and in Yorkshire and Humberside? [Laughter.] The hon. Gentleman may wish to laugh, but, in Yorkshire and Humberside alone, 176,000 jobs would be lost as a result of the implementation of a minimum wage of only £4; and if, as he said in a sedentary intervention, it were £4.26, obviously considerably more would be lost.

Much has also been made of the issue of parental leave. The Government do not mind if an employer gives his staff parental leave for a week, a year or any other period. We object to the imposition of those rules on every employer.

Unlike the Labour party, we do not believe that we know what is best for every individual. Has not the Labour party learnt that increasing protection destroys opportunity? It destroyed the rented housing sector by increasing protection, and it will do the same for jobs as it did in the 1970s.

Mr. Hoon

Will the Minister give way?

Mr. Paice

No, I shall not give way.

Because we are outside the social chapter, our businesses can do what is right for them. That means that they decide on parental leave, which would otherwise cost British businesses £200 million a year. Let us also be clear about the social chapter, which means qualified majority voting on many issues. We know to our cost that even issues that, in theory, require unanimity could be forced through under majority voting, just as the Commission has spuriously used the qualified voting provision for many other employment issues.

Mr. Hoon


Mr. Paice

I wish that the hon. Gentleman would stop behaving like a jack-in-the-box. It is therefore unacceptable for the Labour party to claim that it could block any proposals that would be detrimental to Britain. It could not. Moreover, it has supported all the measures that we have blocked or attempted to block: parental leave; works councils; and the working time directive. I wonder what is the Labour party's definition of a detriment to Britain. Perhaps somebody will tell the House after this debate.

One issue that we have not heard about this evening is child benefit. Why does the Labour party, in apparently espousing the cause of the family and professing its support for young people, now propose to abolish child benefit for over-l6-year-olds? We have heard nothing tonight about the confiscation of more than £1,000 from the family budget for every child who does a two-year course. The motion refers to "individual learning accounts", when what the Labour party really proposes is an individual learning tax.

Another issue is that of getting people back to work. Basic skills are a top priority for the Government in getting people back to work, which is why one of our most successful initiatives in recent years is the family literacy initiative. Ninety per cent. of the parents involved, many of them women, have chosen to receive accreditation for their work, and 70 per cent. have gone on to further education. That initiative is an innovative way to tackle the literacy needs of children and their parents, which is why we are about to consult on extending the scheme to 36 local education authorities.

On nursery education, however, we have seen the real Labour party. Nowhere has its opposition to choice been so clear. We want parents to choose what is best for their children, not what some bureaucrat in shire hall or Whitehall decides. That is why we shall enable all parents of four-year-olds to buy with a voucher the provision that suits their children, their wishes and their circumstances. Already in the pilot area we are seeing a huge uptake by parents and a surge in supply of a variety of different forms of provision.

This evening, we have seen the real danger that is new Labour—a party that believes that it alone knows best. It knows what is best for business, for employees, for families and for nursery education. Whatever the issue, it knows better than the individual. Throughout the new Labour document, the word "choice" appears just six times—[HON. MEMBERS: "As many as that?"] Yes, but wait for it: in four of those times it is the Labour party, not the individual, that will make the choice. Just twice does the Labour party suggest that the individual might have a choice. That is hardly surprising, given its consistent opposition to every measure that we have introduced to provide that choice.

Not for the Labour party the bright free world of empowered individuals and the chance for individuals to choose their destiny and accept responsibility for themselves. That is the Conservative way. We want a society made up of individuals, each with his or her own talents, needs and preferences. We believe that they have the right and should have the opportunity to choose.

The Labour party cannot accept that each individual is different. It believes that individuals are just components of a homogenous mass that it calls society—in that world only the Government have the right to choose. The world that it espouses is a world of dreary and drab uniformity, with a single prescription to the problems of every individual. That is the world that Labour proposes—that is the world that the House will reject tonight.

Question put, That the original words stand part of the Question:—

The House proceeded to a Division—

Mr. Thomas Graham (Renfrew, West and Inverclyde)

(seated and covered): On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. May I explain to the House that, in common with millions of people in Scotland and the rest of Great Britain, I suffer from occupational deafness? Tonight, therefore, when the vote was called, I did not hear it. It was not pointed out by anyone that my hearing was so deficient that I could not cast my vote. That is a denial of the people who appointed me to be their Member of Parliament and to represent them here tonight.

I ask in all sincerity and in all simplicity for the House to ensure that people such as me, who have been appointed by a democratic vote at an election, are taken into consideration. I am appalled that tonight I have been denied my vote because of my not being able to hear. I ask the House to take that point on board from now on.

Mr. Deputy Speaker (Mr. Michael Morris)

I recognise the sincerity with which the hon. Gentleman has raised that point of order. Nevertheless, 10 o'clock votes are hardly an innovation in the House.

Mr. Graham (seated and covered)

Further to that point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. Because of the timing of this vote, I can respect your views. However, at the end of the day, people who have a deficiency in their hearing must be adequately treated in the House. I respectfully ask that my views be passed on to the proper authorities.

The House divided: Ayes 243, Noes 289.

Division No. 182] [9.59 pm
Abbott, Ms Diane Byers, Stephen
Adams, Mrs Irene Callaghan, Jim
Ainger, Nick Campbell, Mrs Anne (C'bridge)
Ainsworth, Robert (Cov'try NE) Campbell, Ronnie (Blyth V)
Allen, Graham Campbell-Savours, D N
Anderson, Donald (Swansea E) Canavan, Dennis
Anderson, Ms Janet (Ros'dale) Cann, Jamie
Ashton, Joe Chisholm, Malcolm
Austin-Walker, John Church, Judith
Banks, Tony (Newham NW) Clapham, Michael
Barron, Kevin Clark, Dr David (South Shields)
Battle, John Clarke, Eric (Midlothian)
Bayley, Hugh Clarke, Tom (Monklands W)
Beckett, Rt Hon Margaret Clelland, David
Bell, Stuart Clwyd, Mrs Ann
Benn, Rt Hon Tony Coffey, Ann
Bennett, Andrew F Cohen, Harry
Bermingham, Gerald Connarty, Michael
Berry, Roger Cook, Robin (Livingston)
Betts, Clive Corbett, Robin
Blunkett, David Corbyn, Jeremy
Boateng, Paul Corston, Jean
Bradley, Keith Cousins, Jim
Bray, Dr Jeremy Cummings, John
Brown, Gordon (Dunfermline E) Cunliffe, Lawrence
Brown, N (N'c'tle upon Tyne E) Cunningham, Jim (Covy SE)
Dafis, Cynog Keen, Alan
Dalyell, Tam Khabra, Piara S
Darling, Alistair Lestor, Joan (Eccles)
Davidson, Ian Lewis, Terry
Davies, Rt Hon Denzil (Llanelli) Liddell, Mrs Helen
Davies, Ron (Caerphilly) Litherland, Robert
Davis, Terry (B'ham, H'dge H'l) Livingstone, Ken
Denham, John Lloyd, Tony (Stretford)
Dewar, Donald Llwyd, Elfyn
Dixon, Don Loyden, Eddie
Dobson, Frank McAllion, John
Donohoe, Brian H McAvoy, Thomas
Dowd, Jim McCartney, Ian
Dunwoody, Mrs Gwyneth Macdonald, Calum
Eagle, Ms Angela McFall, John
Eastham, Ken McKelvey, William
Etherington, Bill Mackinlay, Andrew
Evans, John (St Helens N) McLeish, Henry
Fatchett, Derek McNamara, Kevin
Faulds, Andrew MacShane, Denis
Field, Frank (Birkenhead) McWilliam, John
Fisher, Mark Madden, Max
Flynn, Paul Mahon, Alice
Foster, Rt Hon Derek Marek, Dr John
Foulkes, George Marshall, David (Shettleston)
Fraser, John Marshall, Jim (Leicester, S)
Fyfe, Maria Martin, Michael J (Springbum)
Galbraith, Sam Martlew, Eric
Galloway, George Meacher, Michael
Gapes, Mike Meale, Alan
Garrett, John Michael, Alun
Gerrard, Neil Michie, Bill (Sheffield Heeley)
Gilbert, Rt Hon Dr John Milburn, Alan
Godman, Dr Norman A Miller, Andrew
Godsiff, Roger Mitchell, Austin (Gt Grimsby)
Golding, Mrs Llin Morgan, Rhodri
Gordon, Mildred Morley, Elliot
Griffiths, Nigel (Edinburgh S) Morris, Estelle (B'ham Yardley)
Griffiths, Win (Bridgend) Mudie, George
Grocott, Bruce Mullin, Chris
Gunnell, John Murphy, Paul
Hain, Peter Oakes, Rt Hon Gordon
Hall, Mike O'Brien, William (Normanton)
Hanson, David O'Hara, Edward
Hardy, Peter Olner, Bill
Harman, Ms Harriet O'Neill, Martin
Hattersley, Rt Hon Roy Orme, Rt Hon Stanley
Henderson, Doug Paisley, The Reverend Ian
Heppell, John Parry, Robert
Hill, Keith (Streatham) Pearson, Ian
Hinchliffe, David Pickthall, Colin
Hodge, Margaret Pike, Peter L
Hoey, Kate Pope, Greg
Hogg, Norman (Cumbernauld) Powell, Sir Ray (Ogmore)
Home Robertson, John Prentice, Bridget (Lew'm E)
Hood, Jimmy Prentice, Gordon (Pendle)
Hoon, Geoffrey Primarolo, Dawn
Howarth, George (Knowsley North) Purchase, Ken
Howells, Dr Kim (Pontypridd) Quin, Ms Joyce
Hoyle, Doug Radice, Giles
Hughes, Kevin (Doncaster N) Randall, Stuart
Hughes, Robert (Aberdeen N) Raynsford, Nick
Hughes, Roy (Newport E) Reid, Dr John
Hutton, John Robertson, George (Hamilton)
Illsley, Eric Robinson, Geoffrey (Co'try NW)
Ingram, Adam Robinson, Peter (Belfast E)
Jackson, Glenda (H'stead) Roche, Mrs Barbara
Jackson, Helen (Shef'ld, H) Rogers, Allan
Jamieson, David Rooney, Terry
Janner, Greville Ross, Ernie (Dundee W)
Jenkins, Brian (SE Staff) Rowlands, Ted
Jones, Ieuan Wyn (Ynys M ôn) Sedgemore, Brian
Jones, Jon Owen (Cardiff C) Sheerman, Barry
Jones, Lynne (B'ham S 0) Sheldon, Rt Hon Robert
Jones, Martyn (Clwyd, SW) Shore, Rt Hon Peter
Jowell, Tessa Short, Clare
Simpson, Alan Turner, Dennis
Skinner, Dennis Vaz, Keith
Smith, Andrew (Oxford E) Walker, Rt Hon Sir Harold
Smith, Chris (Isl'ton S & F'sbury) Walley, Joan
Smith, Llew (Blaenau Gwent) Wardell, Gareth (Gower)
Snape, Peter Wareing, Robert N
Soley, Clive Watson, Mike
Spearing, Nigel Wicks, Malcolm
Spellar, John Wigley, Dafydd
Squire, Rachel (Dunfermline W) Williams, Rt Hon Alan (Sw'n W)
Steinberg, Gerry Williams, Alan W (Carmarthen)
Stevenson, George Wilson, Brian
Winnick, David
Stott, Roger Wise, Audrey
Strang, Dr. Gavin Worthington, Tony
Straw, Jack Wray, Jimmy
Sutcliffe, Gerry Wright, Dr Tony
Taylor, Mrs Ann (Dewsbury) Young, David (Bolton SE)
Timms, Stephen
Tipping, Paddy Tellers for the Ayes:
Touhig, Don Mr. Joe Benton and Mrs. Jane Kennedy.
Trickett, Jon
Ainsworth, Peter (East Surrey) Churchill, Mr
Aitken, Rt Hon Jonathan Clappison, James
Alexander, Richard Clark, Dr Michael (Rochford)
Alison, Rt Hon Michael (Selby) Clarke, Rt Hon Kenneth (Ru'clif)
Allason, Rupert (Torbay) Clifton-Brown, Geoffrey
Amess, David Coe, Sebastian
Arbuthnot, James Colvin, Michael
Arnold, Jacques (Gravesham) Congdon, David
Ashby, David Conway, Derek
Atkins, Rt Hon Robert Coombs, Anthony (Wyre For'st)
Atkinson, David (Bour'mouth E) Coombs, Simon (Swindon)
Atkinson, Peter (Hexham) Cope, Rt Hon Sir John
Baker, Rt Hon Kenneth (Mole V) Cormack, Sir Patrick
Baker, Nicholas (North Dorset) Couchman, James
Baldry, Tony Cran, James
Banks, Matthew (Southport) Currie, Mrs Edwina (S D'by'ire)
Banks, Robert (Harrogate) Curry, David (Skipton & Ripon)
Bates, Michael Davies, Quentin (Stamford)
Batiste, Spencer Davis, David (Boothferry)
Beggs, Roy Day, Stephen
Bellingham, Henry Deva, Nirj Joseph
Bendall, Vivian Devlin, Tim
Beresford, Sir Paul Dorrell, Rt Hon Stephen
Biffen, Rt Hon John Douglas-Hamilton, Lord James
Bonsor, Sir Nicholas Dover, Den
Booth, Hartley Duncan, Alan
Boswell, Tim Duncan Smith, Iain
Bottomley, Peter (Eltham) Dunn, Bob
Bottomley, Rt Hon Virginia Dykes, Hugh
Bowden, Sir Andrew Eggar, Rt Hon Tim
Bowis, John Elletson, Harold
Boyson, Rt Hon Sir Rhodes Evans, David (Welwyn Hatfield)
Brandreth, Gyles Evans, Jonathan (Brecon)
Brazier, Julian Evans, Nigel (Ribble Valley)
Bright, Sir Graham Evans, Roger (Monmouth)
Brooke, Rt Hon Peter Evennett, David
Brown, M (Brigg & Cl'thorpes) Faber, David
Browning, Mrs Angela Fabricant, Michael
Bruce, Ian (South Dorset) Fenner, Dame Peggy
Budgen, Nicholas Field, Barry (Isle of Wight)
Burns, Simon Fishburn, Dudley
Burt, Alistair Forman, Nigel
Butcher, John Forsythe, Clifford (S Antrim)
Butler, Peter Forth, Eric
Butterfill, John Fowler, Rt Hon Sir Norman
Carlisle, John (Luton North) Fox, Dr Liam (Woodspring)
Carlisle, Sir Kenneth (Lincoln) Fox, Rt Hon Sir Marcus (Shipley)
Carrington, Matthew French, Douglas
Carttiss, Michael Fry, Sir Peter
Cash, William Gale, Roger
Channon, Rt Hon Paul Gallie, Phil
Chapman, Sir Sydney Gardiner, Sir George
Garnier, Edward Martin, David (Portsmouth S)
Gill, Christopher Mates, Michael
Gillan, Cheryl Mawhinney, Rt Hon Dr Brian
Goodlad, Rt Hon Alastair Mellor, Rt Hon David
Goodson-Wickes, Dr Charles Merchant Piers
Gorman, Mrs Teresa Mills, Iain
Gorst, Sir John Mitchell, Andrew (Gedling)
Grant, Sir A (SW Cambs) Mitchell, Sir David (NW Hants)
Greenway, Harry (Ealing N) Moate, Sir Roger
Greenway, John (Ryedale) Monro, Rt Hon Sir Hector
Griffiths, Peter (Portsmouth, N) Montgomery, Sir Fergus
Gummer, Rt Hon John Selwyn Needham, Rt Hon Richard
Hamilton, Rt Hon Sir Archibald Neubert, Sir Michael
Hamilton, Neil (Tatton) Newton, Rt Hon Tony
Hampson, Dr Keith Nicholls, Patrick
Hannam, Sir John Nicholson, David (Taunton)
Hargreaves, Andrew Norris, Steve
Haselhurst, Sir Alan Oppenheim, Phillip
Hawkins, Nick Page, Richard
Hawksley, Warren Paice, James
Hayes, Jerry Patnick, Sir Irvine
Heald, Oliver Patten, Rt Hon John
Heathcoat-Amory, Rt Hon David Pattie, Rt Hon Sir Geoffrey
Hendry, Charles Pawsey, James
Heseltine, Rt Hon Michael Peacock, Mrs Elizabeth
Hicks, Sir Robert Pickles, Eric
Higgins, Rt Hon Sir Terence Porter, Barry (Wirral S)
Hill, Sir James (Southampton Test) Porter, David (Waveney)
Hogg, Rt Hon Douglas (G'tham) Portillo, Rt Hon Michael
Horam, John Powell, William (Corby)
Hordern, Rt Hon Sir Peter Rathbone, Tim
Howard, Rt Hon Michael Redwood, Rt Hon John
Howell, Sir Ralph (N Norfolk) Renton, Rt Hon Tim
Hughes, Robert G (Harrow W) Richards, Rod
Hunt, Rt Hon David (Wirral W) Riddick, Graham
Hunt, Sir John (Ravensbourne) Robathan, Andrew
Hunter, Andrew Roberts, Rt Hon Sir Wyn
Hurd, Rt Hon Douglas Robertson, Raymond (Ab'd'n S)
Jack, Michael Robinson, Mark (Somerton)
Jenkin, Bernard Roe, Mrs Marion (Broxboume)
Jessel, Toby Rowe, Andrew (Mid Kent)
Jones, Gwilym (Cardiff N) Rumbold, Rt Hon Dame Angela
Jones, Robert B (W Hertfdshr) Sackville, Tom
Kellett-Bowman, Dame Elaine Sainsbury, Rt Hon Sir Timothy
Key, Robert Scott, Rt Hon Sir Nicholas
King, Rt Hon Tom Shaw, David (Dover)
Kirkhope, Timothy Shepherd, Sir Colin (Hereford)
Knight, Mrs Angela (Erewash) Shepherd, Richard (Aldridge)
Knight, Rt Hon Greg (Derby N) Shersby, Sir Michael
Knight, Dame Jill (Bir'm E'st'n) Sims, Sir Roger
Knox, Sir David Skeet, Sir Trevor
Kynoch, George (Kincardine) Smith, Tim (Beaconsfield)
Lait, Mrs Jacqui Smyth, The Reverend Martin
Lamont, Rt Hon Norman (Belfast S)
Lang, Rt Hon Ian Speed, Sir Keith
Lawrence, Sir Ivan Spencer, Sir Derek
Legg, Barry Spicer, Sir Michael (S Worcs)
Leigh, Edward Spink, Dr Robert
Lennox-Boyd, Sir Mark Spring, Richard
Lidington, David Sproat, Iain
Lilley, Rt Hon Peter Squire, Robin (Hornchurch)
Lloyd, Rt Hon Sir Peter (Fareham) Stanley, Rt Hon Sir John
Lord, Michael Steen, Anthony
Luff, Peter Stephen, Michael
Lyell, Rt Hon Sir Nicholas Stem, Michael
MacKay, Andrew Stewart, Allan
Maclean, Rt Hon David Streeter, Gary
McLoughlin, Patrick Sumberg, David
McNair-Wilson, Sir Patrick Sweeney, Walter
Madel, Sir David Sykes, John
Maitland, Lady Olga Tapsell, Sir Peter
Malone, Gerald Taylor, Ian (Esher)
Mans, Keith Taylor, John M (Solihull)
Marland, Paul Taylor, Sir Teddy (Southend, E)
Marlow, Tony Temple-Morris, Peter
Marshall, John (Hendon S) Thomason, Roy
Thompson, Sir Donald (C'er V) Waterson, Nigel
Thompson, Patrick (Norwich N) Watts, John
Thornton, Sir Malcolm Wells, Bowen
Thurnham, Peter Whitney, Ray
Townend, John (Bridlington) Whittingdale, John
Townsend, Cyril D (Bexl'yh'th) Widdecombe, Ann
Tracey, Richard Wilkinson, John
Tredinnick, David Willetts, David
Trend, Michael Wilshire, David
Trotter, Neville Winterton, Mrs Ann (Congleton)
Twinn, Dr Ian Winterton, Nicholas (Macc'f'ld)
Vaughan, Sir Gerard Wolfson, Mark
Viggers, Peter Wood, Timothy
Waldegrave, Rt Hon Wiliam Yeo.Tim
Walden, George Young, Rt Hon Sir George
Walker, Bill (N Tayside)
Waller, Gary Tellers for the Noes:
Ward, John Mr. Roger Knapman and Mr. Richard Ottawa.
Wardle, Charles (Bexhill)

Question accordingly negatived.

Question, That the proposed words be there added, put forthwith, pursuant to Standing Order No. 30 (Questions on amendments), and agreed to.

MR. DEPUTY SPEAKER forthwith declared the main Question, as amended, to be agreed to.


That this House notes with approval the Government's successful economic and deregulation policies which have created more job opportunities and its voluntary approach to encouraging employers to adopt family-friendly policies which make it easier for individuals to combine work and family life; and agrees that this is not an area for legislation.